March 2020 might just be the biggest culprit in the struggles of the BYU 2022 men’s volleyball season.

That spring, COVID-19 changed everyday living, impacting every part of society. During that time, the sports world was turned upside down, leaving many to wonder how — and when — things might return to normal.

When that season abruptly ended, BYU was left with a 17-1 record and a No. 1 national ranking. With no precedence on a premature conclusion to a season, some wondered if the Cougars should be awarded a title.

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Others, such as BYU coach Shawn Olmstead, felt that wouldn’t be appropriate.

“There was actually kind of an informal poll that was sent out among the coaches to award us a national championship because three-fourths of the season had been played in 2020,” he said. “I voted against it just because I didn’t think that was fair to the teams that still had a chance to win a national championship had COVID not stopped it all.

“It’s great that we finished the season ranked No. 1. We’ll always hold on to that and have that. But you don’t want to be awarding something you didn’t have to compete for. I believe in the value of competition. I believe that teams can continue to improve over the course of the season, that’s what we’re all trying to do. A lot of times it takes a little more time.”

When competitions resumed in the fall, college athletes had been granted an extra year of eligibility — something that boosted BYU to a banner season in 2021, as the school went on to win both an MPSF regular-season title and league tournament championship.

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But those moments of glory could arguably have derailed the 2022 season, stunting the Cougars’ growth and leading them to struggle uncharacteristically this year.

Last season, the Cougars were led by seven seniors. This season, the roster is filled with 11 freshmen.

“Last year’s team was a whole bunch of fifth-year seniors that had come back because of COVID and their season being canceled,” redshirt freshman Teon Taylor said. “They had a lot of veteran experience and they’d played volleyball for a long time.”

One can’t help but think an inexperienced 2022 BYU squad might be more experienced had COVID-19 not ended the 2020 season, loading the Cougars’ roster with seniors a year ago.

Even so, Taylor and his teammates remain focused on this season and what they can do at the present. “I think we just try to focus on what we’re doing here now,” he said. “We’re trying to be where our feet are and play in the present and learn from the example of last season.”

The starting middle blocker has kept tabs on his former Cougars teammates in hopes of drawing from their experience. “This year, I’ve talked to a lot of them. … Those guys (from) last year are really good about helping us this year and giving advice to all of us young guys.”

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Taylor recognizes that this team needs to keep learning if it wants to reach the bar set by the Cougars of yesteryear.

“I think it’s been cool just to see the coaches be innovative in how they’re trying to coach us young guys,” he said. “They have to teach us a lot. We don’t know as much as the older guys did.”

Those older players utilized their experience to accomplish great things at BYU. That greatness, while potentially adding extra growing pains to this season, has given today’s Cougars a glimpse of what their own future can hold with enough experience and hard work.

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“Last year’s team grew together,” Taylor said. “They played with each other for many years. They knew each other really well. They had really good chemistry and really high self-belief.

“For us this year, being so young, I just get excited. I think for us this year and going forward in the future the sky is the limit. It’s up to us whatever we want to make it because we are so young. We can do whatever we want, whatever we set our minds to.”

After waiting in the wings for an extra season, many of BYU’s young players are getting their first opportunities on the court. Though 2021 may have added to this year’s Cougars’ growing pains, they are finally gaining experience.

Better late than never.

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