LOS ANGELES — It was well assumed, but now it's official; BYU will face UCLA in the semifinal round of the NCAA championships on Thursday. The Bruins overcame a first set loss to Harvard on Tuesday, but rallied to take the match in four sets (23-25, 25-21, 25-11, 25-21.)
Thursday will mark the fourth time the two historical rivals have faced each other this season, with BYU winning both matches played in Provo and UCLA winning the one played in Los Angeles. As hosts of this year's NCAA Tournament, the Bruins will have the luxury of playing the Cougars once more at home, with the winner advancing to play for the national championship.
"We're expecting to see them again," BYU senior Leo Durkin said Monday, just prior to leaving for Los Angeles. "They're just a good volleyball team, so we're probably going to see them again. If we see them again, we're expecting another slugfest."
COACHES MOVING ON: The BYU seniors won't be the only ones moving on after this weekend's national championship matches. Top assistant coaches Luka Slabe and Jaylen Reyes will be moving on as well, with Slabe taking a position as an assistant for the USA women's volleyball team and Reyes taking a position as an assistant on Nebraska's women's volleyball team.
The timing was right for both assistants, and certainly was right for BYU senior middle blocker Price Jarman, who said during Monday's interviews, "I’m honestly really glad this is happening the year that I leave, because if they left before I did, I don’t know what I would have done."
Indeed, both coaches have made a big impact on the team since 2015, when current head coach Shawn Olmstead hired both coaches as assistants.
“I don’t think you can measure the work, the hours, the effort, the energy — everything that they’ve put into this program. I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done," Olmstead said. “We’re very excited for them. We’re happy for them, and they deserve it."
Olmstead cited Slabe's experience as a coach as being invaluable to him over the last four seasons, while Reyes has offered a degree of enthusiasm and a smooth transition to coaching just one year after playing his final season for the Cougars.
Both have contributed heavily to the team's recent success, with players quickly noting their influence.
“Jaylen and Luka are a couple of my best friends, so they’ve had a huge impact on my life, on and off the court,” Jarman said. “They’ve made me a better volleyball player and I’m excited for the opportunities they have.”
SERVING AT SEA LEVEL: The air's not as thin away from Provo, and BYU has practiced to adjust effectively in its preparations for this weekend's NCAA Tournament. The biggest difference between BYU's elevated altitude and sea level is how serves dip over the net, with coaches trying their best to acclimate their players to the change while practicing in Provo.
“We played the service balls on a different line,” Olmstead said. “I don’t know if it’s a perfect science, but our guys enjoy going down to sea level and serving. They feel like they can put on a little more pace and the ball moves a little differently.”