PROVO — Most years it wouldn't serve as any type of surprise that the BYU men's volleyball advanced to the semifinal round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs, but this season has proven anything but normal.
The Cougars (13-11, 6-6 MPSF) travel to take on Pepperdine (20-6, 9-3) on Thursday for a spot in the MPSF championship match. The match takes place Thursday night at 5 p.m. PDT and will be streamed live on MPSF TV.
BYU arrives at the semfinal match following a thrilling five-set win over Stanford on the road in the first round after entering the match on a five-match losing streak to close out the regular season. A lot of people may have written off the Cougars because of how they ended the season, although BYU coaches and players had different ideas.
"The thought never went through our heads. We knew a lot of people outside were thinking (we were finished), and it actually gave us extra energy to prove them wrong," said BYU sophomore middle blocker Felipe de Brito Ferreira. "We did it, so now it's just the same mentality. No one thinks we can win the MPSF, but we have 100 percent (belief) that we can do it."
Even getting to the MPSF championship match won't be easy considering the formidable opponent and the fact that BYU will have to do it away from the comfy confines of the Smith Fieldhouse. To get a win over the Waves, the Cougars hope to prove more consistent in execution, a problem that has plagued them throughout the season.
"We've improved. I know we have, but I still feel at times there's too many ups and downs in the course of a match," said BYU coach Shawn Olmstead. "... Pepperdine rarely goes through those same ups and downs. They stay (consistent) and we need to get more (like that)."
The Cougars split the season series with the Waves, losing in straight sets in Malibu on Feb. 6 before taking a four-set win at home on March 16.
The good news for the Cougars is their upward swings can prove as good as anyone's, and has led them to defeat every team in the MPSF conference while looking the part of a true contender. A lot of those positive swings come by virtue of fielding a very talented frontline led by sophomore Gabi Garcia Fernandez and freshman Davide Gardini.
"We know it, and I've been telling them that all year," Olmstead said of his team's ability to compete with just about anyone. "The last team I'd want to face when the pieces come together is BYU. We're a big, strong team that can get after it on the service line."Comment on this story
But the fact that his team can be so good when things run in rhythm has also lended frustration, which can be chalked up to the relative youth of BYU's team, although other factors have contributed to the inconsistent play.
"We know behind closed doors the injuries and the things that have dealt some blows," Olmstead said. "But the pieces are there to play at a high level, and we've seen that. But we've also seen, unfortunately, at times this year the other end of the spectrum."