They're maybe not playing as much as they want and it's hard — I get it. I know it is, but they've never complained, never griped or moaned. – Shawn Olmstead

PROVO — BYU's Matt Underwood breaks into a big smile when asked about the opportunity to take it to what most regard as the top men's volleyball unit in the country. The 6-foot-6 senior is seen most practice sessions swinging away at All-MPSF performers, such as Ben Patch and Jake Langlois, and oftentimes more than holding his own.

"I absolutely love going out there every day and talking some trash to those guys — letting them know when we're beating them," Underwood said. "It then gets them fired up — which you want — and it's a great time out there. Every day."

Underwood is certainly used to playing at a high level, whether it be during practice sessions or during matches. In 2015, Underwood played as the Cougars' primary opposite, providing 212 kills (second on the team) while earning second-team All-MPSF honors.

Given his credentials, one would assume Underwood would be working to expand on the notable stats he enjoyed as a junior. But that certainly hasn't been the case as the talented San Diego native has compiled just five kills this season while being assigned mostly mop-up duty.

Underwood's relegation during match play wasn't unanticipated heading into the season, however. The return of Ben Patch off his mission service, along with the return of Tim Dobbert, who was hurt throughout much of the 2015 season, led Underwood to know going in that his role could change.

"Ben Patch is amazing and Tim Dobbert is a real good and physical player. So I knew it would be very competitive earning time at my position," Underwood said. "So you go in with the mindset that all you can do is your best and that you'll do your best to help this team, no matter what your role proves to be."

Underwood's attitude has played a big role for this year's team, even if that role isn't noted on the stat sheet. Along with other upperclassmen like Carson Heninger, Evan Chang and Robbie Sutton, Underwood has pushed the team's starters in every practice session to raise their level of play.

It's a contribution duly noted by head coach Shawn Olmstead, who gets a bit emotional when talking about the contributions made by his less-heralded group of seniors.

"They're maybe not playing as much as they want and it's hard — I get it. I know it is, but they've never complained, never griped or moaned," Olmstead said. "They've just done an unbelievable job."

The competitive play brought about during practice sessions has been a big catalyst for the team's status as the No. 1 seed entering the NCAA championships, which begin Tuesday at Penn State.

"I don't have words for them coming every single practice," Olmstead said. "I don't ever see those guys take a day off unless they're not in the drill or something like that."

For Underwood, a diminished role during regular matches has not taken away from his enjoyment one bit, somewhat remarkably.

"I'm loving every moment of this season," Underwood said. "Sure, it's different, but to see the team get better — you love being a part of that and knowing that you're a big part of that, even if you're not putting up the stats you have in other years. Volleyball is a big-time team game, and we know everyone here has played a big role in this team's success."

According to Olmstead, the changing roles Underwood, Heninger and the others have taken on will serve them in the years to come.

"You grow from those moments," Olmstead said. "Sometimes they're tough life lessons, but it's also great to be part of a team."

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Not just any team, but a team well-poised to win BYU its first men's volleyball championship since 2004. It's a status that has every member on the team enthusiastic heading into the NCAA championships regardless of their individual roles.

"This is what it's all about, and I couldn't be more excited than to have the opportunity we now have," Underwood said. "I feel fortunate to have any role on such a great team and will work as hard as ever to help us achieve our goal of a national championship."


Twitter: @BrandonCGurney

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