We’re trying to replace a guy who was our best passer, our best server and our best attacker. You don’t do that in a single player. It’s really rare that you could replace somebody that was playing at the level he was. —BYU coach Chris McGown, on the absence of Taylor Sander
PROVO — How will this year's team adequately replace and compensate for the loss of Taylor Sander?
It was the first thing addressed by BYU coach Chris McGown when asked to broadly assess his team just prior to his team's opening match against defending national champion Loyola that takes place this Friday.
To open up addressing anything else would have been completely out of place considering just how good the departing All-American was and what he meant to the program.
Over his four-year career Sander was named a first-team All-American three times and as national player of the year in 2014. More importantly, he led BYU to consecutive Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) championships and two trips to the NCAA Final Four.
"We’re trying to replace a guy who was our best passer, our best server and our best attacker," McGown said. "You don’t do that in a single player. It’s really rare that you could replace somebody that was playing at the level he was."
Not an easy task to say the least.
The good news is McGown appears to have plenty of intriguing options at every position group along with some good experience. Returning contributors such as outside hitter Josue Rivera (6-foot-3, senior), middle blocker Michael Hatch (6-8, junior) and libero Jaylen Reyes (6-1, senior) will work with others to replace everything Sander brought collectively.
"We’re trying to replace him by committee, so to speak," McGown said. "The challenge we gave the guys early in the year was that Taylor had us at this level, and all of you have got to get a little bit better. So we’re replacing his points basically as a team. I think the guys have really taken that challenge and internalized it. So they are believing in themselves that way.”
As for Sander's specific position of outside hitter, the player most apt to start there might be shelved for a while. Rivera, who was second in total kills last season, had offseason surgery on his right shoulder and just returned to practices a week before the start of the season.
McGown is encouraged with Rivera's progress, but doesn't expect him to be full-speed until February at the earliest.
Others vying at outside hitter include Phil Fuchs (6-4, senior), Tyler Hutchins (6-4, junior), Kiril Meretev (6-8, sophomore) and Brendan Sander (6-4, freshman), who is the younger brother of Taylor Sander.
The middle blocker and libero positions look strong with the return of both Hatch and Reyes respectively, while Tim Dobbert (6-10, sophomore) looks to have a breakout year at the opposite hitter position.
“He’s been awesome. He’s worked really hard and I expect big things for him," McGown said of Dobbert.
Others competing for time at opposite include Carson Heninger (6-5, junior) and Matt Underwood (6-6, junior).
At setter, the team will likely rely on both Tyler Heap (6-6, junior) and Robbie Sutton (6-6, junior), both of whom contributed heavily last season.
Overall, McGown believes his team should form good chemistry to make another strong bid for the MPSF championship and another NCAA Final Four appearance.
"It's a tight-knit group that has a pretty good culture. They work really hard," McGown said.
Players agree with McGown's sentiments and are excited to prove themselves one of the top teams nationally starting this Friday against Loyola.
"We want to show everyone that we're legit and we can still play without Taylor (Sander)," Hatch said.
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