PROVO — Ups and downs were to be expected this year for the BYU men's volleyball team given Shawn Olmstead's relatively young team, although the Cougars seem to be trending up as of late.
The team is riding high following last weekend's trip to Hawaii, where the Cougars won all three matches, including a four-set win over No. 2-ranked Hawaii. That No. 2 spot now belongs to BYU after 12 straight wins following what was undoubtedly the low point of the season — a straight-set loss at home to No. 14-ranked UC Santa Barbara on Feb. 2.
Those 12 victories haven't come without some struggles, however. On two occasions the Cougars dug 2-0 set deficits for themselves, coming in consecutive home matches against Stanford and No. 8-ranked Pepperdine, respectively. But on both occasions Olmstead watched his players rally and come back strong to take both matches, although he certainly doesn't want to make a habit of winning that way.
"It's something we've addressed over and over," Olmstead said of the need to avoid slow starts, "because as you play better teams, you're not going to be able to do that."
As mentioned, such ups and downs can be expected from most young teams, and the Cougars are young. Several freshmen and sophomores have played key roles this season, and Olmstead will look for even more contributions from his younger players in light of the loss of senior Price Jarman to injury.
Jarman had been working effectively as the team's primary middle blocker until sustaining a hand injury in BYU's comeback win against the Cardinal.
Jarman is expected back, although there's no timetable for his return, which forced Olmstead to look elsewhere to man the critical middle-blocking position. Enter Felipe de Brito Ferreira, whose play recently earned him defensive player of the week honors for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF).
"He's done a really good job of stepping in there," Olmstead said of the 6-foot-9 Brazilian. "He's made good reads blocking, and he's a big, strong physical kid. So when he's getting over the net, or across the net, he gets a lot of good touches for us."
Helping Ferreira out in the middle has been sophomore Miki Jauhiainen and junior Christian Rupert.
Offensive player of the week honors went to BYU outside hitter and senior Brenden Sander, a player who has been critical to the Cougars' success.
"They were talking to me in Hawaii, and they're glad they won't have to see him around anymore," Olmstead said of what opposing teams said of his senior captain. "The load that he's carried — not many kids could handle that load. He's just been sort of that old dependable ranch truck that just keeps going and going."
Sander and his teammates will work to keep it going down the final stretch of the season, starting with Thursday's match against USC. Only five matches remain in the regular season before a hopeful inclusion in the NCAA playoffs and the pursuit of the ultimate goal of a national championship. Thursday's match begins at 7 p.m. MST and will be televised live on BYUtv.