PROVO — When reviewing what has taken place with the BYU men's volleyball team during and even before the 2019 season, its current state stands to reason, although BYU coach Shawn Olmstead isn't looking for excuses.
The No. 11-ranked Cougars (12-10, 6-5 MPSF) enter their last match before the MPSF tournament in fourth place, an uncommon spot for them. That final match is at Grand Canyon, a program that is seldom associated with top volleyball, although Olmstead's team has proven capable of losing to just about any team in the conference this year.
But the Cougars have also proven capable of beating just about anyone, evidenced by consecutive wins over No. 5 UCLA and then No. 4 Pepperdine — although a recent four-match losing streak has dampened any momentum gained. Two of the losses during the four-match skid came against unranked McKendree and No. 14 Concordia, with both matches being played at home.
"We've gone through moments of being up, but it's in the moments when we're down — the inability of fighting through some things — that's what's been the truly tough and frustrating thing," Olmstead said. "But we still have one last match and then the tournament. Hopefully we can get it together, but yeah, it's been a struggle for us to learn how to get out of those holes. It's been that kind of year."
The Cougars, currently fourth in the seven-team MPSF Conference, could finish anywhere from third to fifth, depending on several outcomes during the last week of the year. A top-four finish would have the Cougars hosting the first round, which is a big thing for a program that enjoys arguably the best home-court advantage in the country.
"We've had some issues, but every team does, and you don't want to focus on those things, but yeah, it's been tough and a big challenge for us," Olmstead said.
Those challenges began prior to the year, when the graduation of notable leaders like Brenden Sander and Leo Durkin gave way to several second-year players working to fill the void. Couple the loss of senior leaders with Olmstead taking on a new assistant coaching staff, and it's conspired into a season without much consistency but with some flashes of quality play.
A particularly tough blow came with the season-ending injury to starting setter Wil Stanley, with his backup, Cyrus Fa'alogo battling with ankle-cramping issues that often flare up at the most inopportune occasions.
"It's been frustrating because we feel we can't rely on any consistency at that critical position and it's apparent his injury has played a bigger impact than we thought," Olmstead said. "It's definitely been a huge loss, but you don't want to be that guy who says it's all been due to one injury. We've had several other issues and the battle has really been amongst ourselves and our consistency and inability to battle through tough moments. That's the most frustrating thing for me."
But with pervading frustrations have come glimpses of brilliance, led by standouts like sophomore Gabi Garcia Fernandez and freshman Davide Gardini. The hope is to harness those flashes tighter and reach a potential that is high, given the team's overall talent level.
Through it all Olmstead has learned to not let the inconsistencies on the court affect his personal life, which can be a tough thing, considering his emotional and competitive personality.
"I'm seriously doing great through all of it and really believe I'm growing from it and that we'll all grow from it," Olmstead said. "I mean, no one wants to win more than me. That's not what I'm saying, but I have learned to not let things affect me like I once did. It's a young team with some tough things going on, but we'll continue working, improving and get through this thing and be better for it."
BYU plays Grand Canyon on Thursday, with the MPSF tournament set to begin April 13.