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BYU men’s volleyball sweeps McKendree to start 2023 season

The Cougars beat McKendree 3-0, giving them their first win in an opener since 2020.

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BYU men’s volleyball plays McKendree at the Smith Fieldhouse on Jan. 6, 2023.

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The BYU men’s volleyball season got underway Friday evening in the Smith Fieldhouse against McKendree. The Cougars won 3-0, giving them their first win in an opener since 2020. 

BYU won by set scores of 25-20, 25-21 and 25-20. 

“We showcased a lot of things that we can do well,” BYU junior outside hitter Kupono Browne said. “But we’ve got a lot more that we can access in us. … We got some fire from behind the service line. But I mean, I’m excited to see more from us moving forward.”

The match was McKendree’s first of the year as well and the fourth time the two schools had played each other. The previous contests between the Cougars and the Bearcats had all taken place in Provo with BYU holding the 2-1 edge coming into the 2023 season. 

McKendree’s only win over BYU was a 3-1 triumph in 2019 when the two schools last met. 

Friday was much different than that night four years ago. This time around, the Bearcats looked overmatched as the Cougars controlled the contest and only trailed on three occasions, each time by just one point. 

“We know what we are capable of,” Browne said. “Coming into this match we knew we were capable of walking away with a win. And it was really just discipline, making sure that we maintained our focus on what we’re capable of.”

The Cougars never trailed in the first set, taking advantage of the Bearcats’ eight service errors en route to the 1-0 advantage. Browne was masterful from the service line, securing three consecutive aces to get BYU to 19 points and pushing his team’s cushion to six.

“For me it’s the routine,” Browne said when asked about what goes into his impressive serves. “I have four deep breaths before I serve, and I’ve got to get those in. Those are really important.”

The Honolulu native hardly gave McKendree time to breathe with his strong serving Friday. 

“If it wasn’t for Kupono, we might still be playing,” BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said following his team’s first victory. “He carried a load. … (He) went on some really crucial service runs.”

Browne finished the evening with nine kills and four digs to go along with his three aces. 

McKendree got its first lead of the match near the beginning of the second set. However, it was short lived. A 7-2 BYU run midway through the game put the Cougars back in control as they forced their way to a two-set edge heading into the break. 

The final set was similar to the first, the Bearcats committing eight more service errors; BYU never trailing while going on to win by the exact same score. The Cougars used three different 3-0 runs to separate themselves from McKendree and pick up the sweep.

Despite the win, Olmstead knows BYU can play better. “There’s for sure a lot for the guys to just kind of learn and grow from,” he said. “It didn’t match what we’re doing every day in practice, so that’s encouraging. I think we just need a little more urgency in a lot of different plays where we were just really a little more casual than we’d like to be.”

BYU will look to improve from match one to match two when it gets a shot at No. 14 ranked Lewis tomorrow evening. 

“They’re going to play big boy volleyball,” Olmstead said of the upcoming contest with Lewis. “They’re going to take big whacks at the ball; high and deep in the corners. They’ve got the physicality to do it and it’s going to be a handful for us everywhere.”

BYU’s match with Lewis will begin at 7 p.m. 

McKendree will take to the floor prior to the Cougars and Flyers’ meeting, facing No. 8 ranked UC Irvine at the Smith Fieldhouse starting at 4 p.m.