Meet BYU’s Mr. Perfection, a Finnish import with a computer science degree, 4.0 GPA, and a javelin-throwing wife
A senior middle blocker from Finland who returned for a fifth season after COVID-19 robbed the BYU volleyball team of a shot at the national championship last year, Miki Jauhiainen leads the Cougars into the MPSF tournament this week
As a beautiful summer’s day spent jet skiing and picnicking in Tampere, Finland, was winding down and the sun was setting on one of the many picturesque lakes in the region, BYU men’s volleyball player Miki Jauhiainen dropped to one knee and proposed to BYU javelin thrower Payge Cuthbertson.
“It was perfect,” Cuthbertson said.
It had to be.
Because everyone who knows the 6-foot-9 Jauhiainen, a senior middle blocker on BYU’s No. 2-ranked men’s volleyball team, knows that he seeks perfection in everything he does.
“Miki can’t let himself not give his all at anything he does — volleyball, school, anything. He just has to give it everything he’s got. — BYU javelin thrower Payge Cuthbertson Jauhiainen.
Perfectionist “is a good way to describe him,” said Cuthbertson, now listed as Payge Jauhiainen on BYU’s track roster after saying “yes” to the big Finn that summer evening in 2019 and marrying him last summer after the COVID-19 pandemic cut short both athletes’ seasons.
“Miki can’t let himself not give his all at anything he does — volleyball, school, anything. He just has to give it everything he’s got,” Payge said.
That especially applies to Jauhiainen’s schoolwork. He graduated from BYU in computer science last year with a perfect 4.0 grade point average, and has kept the straight A’s through his masters degree work this pandemic-altered school year.
Jauhiainen was named to the 2020 CoSIDA Academic All-America Division I Men’s First Team last June, becoming the first student-athlete in BYU men’s volleyball history to earn such an honor. He is also a four-time All-Academic MPSF Scholar-Athlete honoree.
“Miki might be the brightest guy in the NCAA, a 4.0 student, and I don’t think he’s ever strayed below that,” BYU men’s volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead told KSL.com last year. “We’re lucky to have him.”
The Cougars clinched the No. 1 seed in the MPSF Tournament, and the right to host it, with a 3-0 win over No. 6-ranked UCLA last week. They dropped a 3-1 match to the Bruins the following night in Los Angeles to fall to 17-3 overall, but are still considered the team to beat in the conference tourney.
The conference tournament begins Thursday with three matches at Smith Fieldhouse, beginning at 2 p.m. BYU drew a first-round bye and will meet the lowest remaining seed in a semifinal match on Friday at 7 p.m. The championship match is Saturday at 7 p.m., with the champion advancing to the NCAA Tournament, which will be held in Columbus, Ohio, from May 3-8.
Jauhiainen said he “doesn’t have a good answer” for his academic prowess, possibly the first time the recently minted Finnish National Team member hasn’t been able to provide an answer to anything.
“I can’t not do assignments properly, if that makes sense,” he said. “And the grades follow from doing the work. While I like to tell myself I don’t obsess over the grades, my wife might have a different opinion. I just try to do my best.”
BYU men’s volleyball fans can thank Payge, in a way, for Miki still being around and playing in his fifth season because had they not been engaged at this time last year, Miki probably would have moved on to professional volleyball in Europe. But since she still had a year of eligibility remaining with the BYU track and field team, he decided to return in 2021 while several other senior teammates moved on.
“If I didn’t come back, I was going to have to figure something out, because if not I would have had to get a job and figure out all the visa stuff (as a foreigner),” he said. “I just decided to keep playing, because it was the easiest, and that way I could basically get a free master’s degree as well.”
Olmstead’s team has benefitted, as Jauhaianen has recorded 48 kills, 16 digs and 54 block assists this season. Last year, he started in 17 of 18 matches before the season was cut short due to COVID-19 and led the team with 72 total blocks.
“I feel like he is underappreciated,” Payge said. “He does so much for his teammates and his team and his coaches. Not underappreciated in a bad way, but sometimes I think he gets overlooked because he is doing a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff. But this year I feel like he is shining and showing everyone his good play on the court. He is an amazing guy with great qualities and I love him.”
How did the lanky, boyish-looking star from Finland who is often mistaken as a basketball player on campus end up at BYU?
Jauhiainen said it was through connections one of his coaches in Finland had with former BYU assistant coach Luka Slabe, now the head volleyball coach at North Carolina State and the USA Women’s Volleyball National Team coach.
“I had no idea what I was getting into. I was like, it sounds good, it is cheap, the team is good, so I will just go over there and see. And it has worked out nicely.” — Miki Jauhainen
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” he said. “I was like, it sounds good, it is cheap, the team is good, so I will just go over there and see. And it has worked out nicely.”
How did the Jauhainens meet?
Both agree it was in the academic center at the Student Athlete Building on campus, but there’s some disagreement on who approached who first.
“From what I remember, I approached him first,” Payge said. “I asked him for some help on a computer. And that’s how we started talking for the first time. So I take (credit) for how we first met, but he might say otherwise.”
Their first date was a volleyball match Miki was playing in (what else?) and a birthday party afterward, and love blossomed soon after. Payge said there haven’t been a lot of big cultural differences to overcome because they have similar families and home lives.
She is from Sherwood, Oregon, and an outstanding athlete in her own right. She has qualified for NCAA regionals in the javelin all four years she’s been at BYU.
“I found myself a winner. I am lucky,” she said. “It’s been great.”
With this guy, it had to be.