I've been wanting to play. I've been searching for this opportunity since the beginning of the season. —BYU middle blocker Felipe de Brito Ferreira
PROVO — Turns out Gabi Garcia Fernandez isn't the only true freshman providing great play for the No. 2-ranked BYU men's volleyball team.
The Cougars are set to finish out their regular season home schedule this weekend with matches versus No. 14 Concordia Irvine and No. 13 Grand Canyon on Thursday and Saturday nights, respectively. They'll do so with a team mix of several savvy veterans mixed with some impressive freshmen, which includes Fernandez from the opposite hitter position and Felipe de Brito Ferreira at middle blocker.
The 6-foot-7 Fernandez has been a standout since the first match of the season, while an unfortunate injury to senior veteran Price Jarman paved the way for big contributions from the 6-9 Ferreira.
Jarman went down with a hand injury in a match against Stanford a little over a month ago. At the time, Ferreira's playing time had been very limited, with most matches spent watching from the Cougar bench.
"I've been wanting to play. I've been searching for this opportunity since the beginning of the season," Ferreira said. "When I heard Price was hurt, for I don't know how much time, I felt that I was ready to fill the gap, and I'm happy to be playing."
Filling in for an injured teammate is always a bittersweet prospect, with Ferreira readily expressing gratitude for Jarman and the help he continues to be to him, even when saddled with injury. Since filling in at middle blocker, the Brazilian native has experienced some ups and downs, but has largely impressed with his overall play.
"He's done an outstanding job, especially when you consider the circumstances," said BYU coach Shawn Olmstead. "He's so big and strong, and he's really filled in nicely in what was a tough spot for us in losing Price for some time."
Ferreira came to BYU after a strong recommendation from former BYU player Otavio Souza, who is also from Brazil, led to an official visit and eventual signing.
"I watched a couple of games and I just fell in love. The environment was awesome," Ferreira said.
Growing up in Maringa, Brazil, which is by the southern border with Argentina, Ferreira was first a swimmer before a growth spurt that put him at 6-foot-8 at the young age of 15 helped him decide to switch to volleyball. Encouraged by his father, he thrived playing the sport, and soon rose to gain a lot of recruiting attention.
He arrived at BYU to join a roster of a lot of relatively young players mixed with veterans like seniors Brenden Sander and Leo Durkin. During matches, Durkin can be seen talking to the young freshman constantly, lending valuable instruction and encouragement.
"He's still pretty new to volleyball, and him having guys like Leo around him is huge," Olmstead said. "It really helps him in mentoring him every play, and talking to him about what is coming and how to respond to it."
Ferreira, who is Catholic, has also responded well to BYU's predominately LDS culture, forging some strong relationships and growing a close friendship with Fernandez almost immediately.
"I've made a lot of close friends," Ferreira said. "Gabi is a really close friend to me. He's my best friend here, but I also feel I'm getting better as a person, learning a lot of values and the whole experience — it's different, but it's been a great experience."
The Cougars will take on Concordia Irvine Thursday at 7 p.m. MDT and Grand Canyon Saturday at 8 p.m. Both matches will be televised live on BYUtv.