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Courtesy BYU photo
Ohio State topped the Cougars 25-19, 25-20 and 25-22 in the NCAA tournament championship game in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, May 6, 2017.

COLUMBUS, Ohio. — It’s a full year later and the BYU men’s volleyball team finds itself at largely the same juncture, moving forward, but with reason for optimism.

For the second straight year, the Cougars’ season ended with a thud, in the form of yet another straight-set loss to Ohio State in the NCAA championship match. Once again it was the Buckeyes’ service game that overwhelmed the Cougars, and probably even more so than it did in 2016.

Sure, the Cougars talked all year about strides made to improve their ability to receive and then pass Ohio State’s often devastating serving effectively, and signs were there throughout the season that improvements had been made.

But it turns out that BYU isn’t the only team that practices ardently to improve in certain areas. Players and coaches from both sides agreed that while BYU may have made improvements, Ohio State did as well, to perhaps even widen the gap between the two teams.

So where to go moving forward to the 2018 season?

A study of BYU’s current roster shows a team that will return largely intact from not only 2017, but also from the 2016 season. Five of the starting seven players during Saturday’s loss return, although junior Tim Dobbert’s future is in some question, as he mulls the decision to play out his eligibility or move on after graduating early.

The few personnel losses the team will experience for 2018 aren’t small ones, however. Gone will be first-team All-American Jake Langlois, who was easily the team’s best and most consistent performer throughout the year, along with former first-team All-American Ben Patch, who won’t play out his eligibility, Joe Grosh and Kiril Meretev.

Ready to help ease the personnel losses will be a promising group of freshmen, which include Zach Eschenberg, Storm Fa’agata-Tufuga, Miki Jauhiainen, Jacob Komenda, Will Stanley and Tanner Skabelund, among others. The program will also receive an influx of incoming talent from the high school ranks, as it typically does from year to year.

Of those returning, Brenden Sander will likely reprise his role at outside hitter, Leo Durkin at setter, Price Jarman at middle blocker and Erik Sikes at libero, although Mitchel Worthington may make a push to be the team’s primary libero. Dobbert is likely to start at opposite hitter again, should he choose to return.

When considering the amount of talent returning, it won’t be surprising if the Cougars are in the same spot next year, with next year’s championships set to be held at UCLA. But before penciling BYU in for another NCAA championship berth, or even a spot in the title match, consider what everyone else returns.

BYU coach Shawn Olmstead first mentioned it in 2016, when his relatively young team was paired with other young squads — indicating some very competitive years to come. The 2017 season bore that out, and 2018 will likely do much of the same, as top teams, such as Ohio State, Long Beach State and Hawaii will return a lot of their same players from this past season.

Until then the Cougars have to bridge some of the gap between themselves and Ohio State. Again, that gap will have almost everything to do with the serve-and-receive game, with the hope of finally matching what the Buckeyes are sure to throw at them next year, should the teams again match up in the NCAA championships.

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney