When BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse officially opened on Dec. 1, 1951, it was not a volleyball squad that took the floor, but rather the Cougars men’s basketball team.

The school’s men’s volleyball program would not make its first appearance until 1990 — over 38 years later.

On that winter day in 1951, BYU defeated Arizona on the newly laid hardwood. The win proved to be the forerunner to many more BYU victories in the building to come, many in sports other than basketball. The Cougars’ volleyball program has churned out win after win in the Smith Fieldhouse, turning it into one of the most formidable college volleyball venues in the country.

Opposing teams know just how difficult it is to leave Provo with a victory. UCLA and USA Volleyball men’s coach John Speraw is a familiar Fieldhouse foe, having played and coached against the Cougars there.

“Not to be cliché,” Speraw said about competing in the Smith Fieldhouse. “But it’s a love-hate relationship. I love the environment. … But it’s really difficult to win there, so it’s not my favorite spot on the calendar.”

BYU, on the other hand, feels nothing but love for the Smith Fieldhouse.

“It’s a great atmosphere,” freshman outside hitter Miks Ramanis said. “Everyone’s cheering you on. Everyone’s helping you out. I love it.”

Entering this season, BYU had only lost 11 times at home since Shawn Olmstead took over head coaching duties.    

So far this season, the Cougars have continued to use the Smith Fieldhouse to their gain, with every one of their wins coming in Provo. While the Smith Fieldhouse keeps opposing teams uncomfortable, it does just the opposite for the Cougars. 

“We practice every day on that floor,” Olmstead said. “So there’s a lot of comfort in that. There’s a lot of familiarity with the surroundings, with the lights, with the roof, with the setting, with the court arrangement, et cetera. So all of those things work to our advantage.”

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The most obvious advantage the Cougars have when playing at home is the reliably raucous atmosphere that BYU fans bring to Smith Fieldhouse. That environment has come to be expected by opposing players and coaches when visiting Provo.  

“I expect there to be lines out the door,” Speraw said when asked about what he anticipates next month when his team travels to BYU. “I think the fans at BYU, in almost all cases, are as they should be in American sport. … They’re all very kind and nice. They’re respectful. … And then they’re going to go yell as loud as they can, when the whistle blows, for you to miss your serve.”

Grand Canyon experienced that deafening crowd two weekends ago when the Antelopes picked up their first-ever wins at the Smith Fieldhouse.

BYU fans get on their feet during match against UC Irvine in the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on Jan. 21, 2022. | Brooklynn Jarvis, BYU Photo

“Our guys actually really enjoy playing (there),” GCU coach Matt Werle said. “With over 3,000 (fans), it’s so special. It’s such an amazing volleyball environment that for some of the guys on our team, that’s their favorite place to play.”

Before going to BYU, Werle tried to simulate the crowd noise his team would experience in Provo.

“We prep for it with very, very loud music in our practice gym,” Werle said. His team got just what they had anticipated.

“The students behind our service line were chirping in our guys’ ears,” he said. “When it got to really crucial points of the match, the crowd noise from the surrounding parts of the gym almost diluted what those students were saying. … It is crazy loud.”

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BYU’s volleyball program doesn’t just enjoy the benefits of the Smith Fieldhouse on the day of a match. It also helps attract talent to come play for the school.

Sophomore outside hitter Kupono Browne says the Smith Fieldhouse and the support of BYU’s fans played a part in his transfer from Stanford to Provo.

“(Other) schools are capable of bringing out a crowd,” he said. “But they will never bring out a crowd quite as vivacious, quite as energized as BYU brings with the Smith Fieldhouse.”

Coaches that compete against the Cougars, like Werle, recognize that the Smith Fieldhouse is a great recruiting tool for BYU.

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“There’s no reason why someone wouldn’t want to go play in front of that crowd with that support,” he said.

The Smith Fieldhouse provides a variety of tests for opposing coaches and teams.

“Going (there) and getting a win is hard to do because there’s just multifaceted challenges,” Speraw said. “The major one is the emotional lift that the crowd gives to their team. It’s something that just makes them better and they’re already good every year. So you come in with some significant challenges ahead of you.”

The Cougars return to the friendly confines of the Smith Fieldhouse this weekend, hoping to get that extra boost in their special arena, with matches against Concordia Friday and Saturday.

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