The BYU men’s volleyball team needed a spark.
The Cougars faced an 0-2 deficit against a Ball State squad that boasted one of the nation’s best offenses. A nine-point lead hadn’t kept BYU safe in the first set, and things never really got going for the Cougars in the second. The losses, halting the roars of a packed Smith Fieldhouse this early February night, necessitated a change in BYU’s game plan. Enter Kupono Browne, the sophomore outside hitter from Honolulu, who gave the Cougars the jump-start they needed.
Reset the clock to one year earlier, back to February 2021. Browne was about to begin his freshman season at Stanford, in what was expected to be the school’s final year with a men’s volleyball team following the school’s shocking announcement that it would be cutting the sport from its budget. That decision was made public in the summer of 2020, as Browne prepared for his first year at the school. Despite the disappointing news, Browne remained committed to attending what he says was then the school of his dreams.
While at Stanford, the Hawaii native showed flashes of potential, recording 22 kills, three service aces and tallying 27 points against Pepperdine in just his second appearance on the court. Later that year, he totaled career highs in blocks (5) and digs (7) in a match against Concordia. He ended the season on the Freshman All-American Team, an award he was surprised to receive.
Last March, Browne and Stanford traveled to Provo to play BYU. Soon thereafter, the freshman entered his name in the transfer portal, all the while believing he would continue his education at Stanford, even if his sport was dropped by the university.
“I just entered the transfer portal out of curiosity,” Browne said.
The same day he entered the portal, BYU assistant coach Micah Naone reached out to Browne with interest. “Late in the season when they did reinstate the Stanford men’s volleyball program, I had to make a decision. I ended up going with BYU because I felt that this program was more of what I needed as an athlete. I’m stoked to be here.”
While transferring to Provo has been an adjustment, BYU has been a great fit for Browne. “The level of play in our practice gym, the urgency that you see in our weight room, and really just the experience overall in this volleyball program is amazing,” he said.
Browne started in BYU’s first match this year, as COVID-19 thinned the Cougars’ roster during a trip to Penn State, forcing the coaching staff to adjust on the fly. Following that trip, Browne virtually remained out of head coach Shawn Olmstead’s rotation, playing in just one set before BYU faced its 0-2 deficit against Ball State earlier this month.
Coming out of the locker room, one of Olmstead’s assistant coaches, Devin Young, thought the Cougars could benefit from inserting Browne into the match. It was a last-minute decision, as Olmstead scratched the old lineup and sent the Stanford transfer onto the floor.
“The match just wasn’t exactly going the way the coaches wanted it to go,” Browne said of that night. “When we made our way back out to the court, I was grabbing a cup of Powerade, getting ready to sit on the bench again. Shawn came over and was like, ‘Kupono, get ready to go, you’re going in.’”
“Kupono has got a cannon of an arm. He has a tendency to rip the ball, get after it, be super aggressive, (and is) really high energy.” — BYU volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead
Browne saw the chance as more of an opportunity to help his team than a way to increase his playing time.
“I was looking at it as, ‘I’ve got a role to play coming into this match, so I should be focused on fulfilling that as my first priority,’” he said. “I just wanted to make sure I was fulfilling my role to the others on the court.”
Browne did just that, proving to be the spark the Cougars needed. His energy and effort helped propel his team to a dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 victory. Despite playing in only three of the five sets, Browne ended the night with three blocks and an impressive .500 hitting percentage to go along with 11 kills.
“Kupono has got a cannon of an arm,” Olmstead said after Browne’s impressive performance. “He has a tendency to rip the ball, get after it, be super aggressive, (and is) really high energy.”
The next evening, Olmstead started Browne against Ball State. “The second night was everything I could have hoped for and more,” Browne said. He led the team in kills with 19 and total points with 20.5.
The sophomore transfer has seen playing time in each of the Cougars’ subsequent matches. In those moments, Browne has continued to shine, making the most of every chance he gets.
Since entering the match in the Cougars comeback victory, Browne has averaged 10.25 kills, 3 digs, and 2.75 blocks per contest. In the process, his immeasurable enthusiasm and energy has encouraged the loud roars of a faithful BYU crowd in a packed Smith Fieldhouse.