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Despite season coming to end, BYU men’s volleyball on the upswing

The Cougars are hopeful that the lessons they learned this year will translate into greater success in 2023 as their youthful roster shifts into experienced veterans.

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BYU volleyball players, wearing white, sit on the bench d

BYU volleyball players sit on the bench during a match against GCU.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU

BYU’s 2022 season came to a close Wednesday evening in Los Angeles following a 3-2 loss to Pepperdine in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament quarterfinals.

The defeat marks the Cougars’ earliest MPSF tournament exit underShawn Olmstead. That was not the seventh year head coach’s focus, however, following the loss that ended his team’s season.

“I told them how much I care about them,” he said when asked what he told his team after the loss. “How much I love each one of them; how much I appreciate each one of those guys putting faith and trust in our coaches and in each other. I just told them how proud I was. They did not stop battling. … They just will not go away, and I was proud of them for that.”

Despite ultimately ending the season with six straight defeats, Olmstead feels that his players performed their best down the stretch. 

“They were playing their best volleyball,” he said the day after the Cougars’ season came to an end. “Last night was some of their best volleyball; the weekend before, pushing UCLA. … They did exactly what we wanted to do, which was improve; improvement we could see, we could have on the stat sheet, we could have in our analysis every single week. We believed if we were doing that, we were going to be a really, really good team. I think we became a really, really good team. We didn’t become a great team but we became a really, really good team.”

The Cougars are hopeful that the lessons they learned this year will translate into greater success in 2023 as their youthful roster shifts into experienced veterans.

“The experience of this season is the most valuable thing for every single one of the guys,” Olmstead said. “And it’s the most valuable thing for me too as the coach.”          

Despite their growing pains collectively, BYU had some impressive individual play this season, namely from senior outside hitter Davide Gardini. The Italy native was named to this year’s All-MPSF First Team, marking the fourth year he was an All-MPSF Selection. 

Gardini led the Cougars in every sense of the word, carrying the team on multiple occasions throughout the year. The senior from Ravenna almost single-handedly willed BYU to victory over No. 1 UCLA on Senior Night in the Smith Fieldhouse. Gardini ended the evening with a career-high 30 kills, a 0.473 hitting percentage, two service aces, four blocks and five digs.

BYU’s senior leader will be sorely missed next season. “I can’t say enough about Davide Gardini,” Olmstead said. “He carried a massive load for our guys. He never once shied away from that.

“I don’t believe we fill that hole immediately that Davide is leaving because of how good of a player he was.”

Freshmen Cougars Miks Ramanis and Teon Taylor joined Gardini in the MPSF’s end of season awards, earning selections to the All-Freshman Team.

BYU coaches remained focused on steady improvement over the season, believing that their team’s progress was the greatest measuring stick throughout a challenging year.  

“We told these guys not to worry about outcome because we believed that being a young team, we needed to build,” Olmstead said. “You need to build. You’ve got to go through these matches. That’s where we’re going to gather experience.”

Olmstead feels that the experience gained in 2022’s challenging season will pay dividends next year. 

“I’m totally confident that these guys are going to come back ready to compete,” he said about next season. “Things change and time moves and it’s going to be a whole new team.”

When asked what he’s most excited about looking forward to the coming season, Olmstead said, “Just seeing all those guys again, getting them back. … I wish we could have them all back because they were just a great group of guys. I’m always excited to play and have a chance to teach and have a chance to be a mentor for these young men.”

After losing uncharacteristically early in the conference tournament, Olmstead and the Cougars will have to wait a little longer than they’re used to before getting back on the court. BYU is confident it will be worth the wait.