He was willing to come in and fill his brother's shoes, and he didn't back down from that. If you were to do a draft of the greats that have come through BYU — the outside hitters, then you're probably going to pick Taylor and Brenden. —BYU men's volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead
LOS ANGELES — You never quite know what BYU men's volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead is going to bring up during a post-match press conference. Not if you're the media, certainly, nor if you're one of the players sitting alongside the coach after a big win or even a brutal loss.
Late Thursday night, following the Cougars' disappointing four-set loss to UCLA at the NCAA semifinals, Olmstead related a story regarding the first time he met graduating senior Brenden Sander. While Sander had never heard the story before, it underscored just how impactful his time at BYU has been, and how much Olmstead cherishes the relationship the two have formed.
"The first time I met Brenden was on this court. He probably doesn't even remember," Olmstead said in the press room at Pauley Pavilion. Sander, in turn, gave a shrug, acknowledging no memory of it.
Olmstead went on to relate how Sander's mother introduced him to Olmstead, long before he became the men's coach, and before his older brother, Taylor Sander, began a family legacy that won't soon be forgotten at BYU.
"It's fitting that it's ending here. Right where it started," Olmstead said.
Media members suggested it might be fitting to retire the No. 15 worn by both Sander brothers, to which Olmstead quipped that he wore the same number, too, when he last played for BYU 14 years ago. He then heaped praise on both brothers, but particularly on Brenden, and the impact they've had on the program.
"He was willing to come in and fill his brother's shoes, and he didn't back down from that," Olmstead said. "If you were to do a draft of the greats that have come through BYU — the outside hitters, then you're probably going to pick Taylor and Brenden."
The stats and accomplishments both brothers compiled during their careers lend credence to Olmstead's claim. Taylor was named a first team All-American in three of his four years at BYU, and was named National Player of the Year in 2014, his final season. Brenden was named a first team All-American in two of his four years, while showcasing a remarkably similar skill set to Taylor, who currently plays for the U.S. national team.
"I wish their parents were at the age to have another (son)," Olmstead joked. "But I love (Brenden), and he's accepted that challenge. In every match in his four-year career he earned it. He just got better and better, and he is as good as his brother. He's an outstanding young man."
As for Brenden, he spoke highly of his BYU experience, despite ending his career a bit earlier than desired.
"My time at BYU — I don't have any words to describe it," Brenden said. "It's been the most amazing experience of my life. I've met some of the best friends I'll ever have ... and the coaches. I'll be great friends with them forever. It's an amazing place to be and I've grown at BYU."
Not having a Sander in the program for the first time since 2011 won't be an easy thing for Olmstead, nor will the loss of other key seniors like setter Leo Durkin and middle blocker Price Jarman. Even with these departures, however, big things will again be expected considering the talent returning, led by star freshman Gabi Garcia Fernandez.
But on Thursday night, Olmstead preferred focusing on Brenden and the other seniors, pointing out what each of them meant to the program rather than wallow in defeat.
"I'm proud of them," Olmstead said. "I've never had a group that's been through more adversity since the start of the school year to this point, but to think this group is even here ... I'm just proud of these guys. Every single one of them."
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