BYU is two years removed from its last men’s volleyball conference title, and it doesn’t look likely that a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship is in the cards in 2023.
The Cougars have posted a 2-4 conference record (12-6 overall) midway through their league schedule, positioning themselves in fifth place. At the top towers No. 3-ranked UCLA (4-0 in MPSF) and No. 5 Grand Canyon (5-1). Barring a major meltdown from either of those two schools, BYU will finish out of the top spot in the conference for a second year in a row.
Despite the middling conference record, there have been bright spots for BYU through its first six matches of league play. BYU coach Shawn Olmstead feels senior transfer setter Heath Hughes and freshman outside hitter Trent Moser have been better than anticipated, giving the Cougars a nice boost in arguably the toughest men’s volleyball conference in the country.
As usual, the MPSF has performed at an elite level this season, capturing five of the top 10 spots in the AVCA Coaches Poll. BYU is the fourth-highest ranked team from its conference, checking in at No. 8 — one spot behind league-foe Pepperdine.
“We probably have more teams than any other conference in the top 10. That in and of itself speaks volumes for how tough it is in the MPSF; it’s always tough. … So you’re going to go every single week against really good opponents. And that’s what you want to do. You want to play in the best conference.” — BYU coach Shawn Olmstead
“We probably have more teams than any other conference in the top 10,” Olmstead said. “That in and of itself speaks volumes for how tough it is in the MPSF; it’s always tough. … So you’re going to go every single week against really good opponents. And that’s what you want to do. You want to play in the best conference.”
If BYU indeed finishes without a league title, it will be the first time during eighth-year coach Olmstead’s watch that the Cougars will complete two full seasons without an MPSF championship to its name.
“I don’t consume myself with those kinds of things,” Olmstead said when asked about the league title streak that is on the line. “We know the tradition and the history here. … But I’m not going to freak myself out about those things.”
BYU’s four losses in MPSF play may have all but sealed the school’s fate, giving it what would be its first back-to-back sub-conference championship finish since the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
Still, some of the cards are in the Cougars’ favor at the halfway point of the MPSF schedule. After playing all six conference contests on the road, the team returns to the friendly confines of the Smith Fieldhouse, where all of the latter half of its league slate will take place.
“Being at home is always better than on the road,” Olmstead said. “So it’s going to be nice. That’s not going to alone take care of itself. I think you still got to do a lot of great things (to win) and that’s what we’re talking to our guys about. But there’s no doubt that being at home gives you some of those things that aren’t available on the road.
“You get to sleep in your own bed and have your own routines and your own protocol that is … completely different when you’re on the road.”
Not only will the Cougars be at home, but arguably the school’s toughest conference tests have already been played (at UCLA and at GCU), lining things up nicely for BYU down the stretch.
Olmstead knows, however, it will still be challenging to earn wins. “All these teams that are right there behind (UCLA and GCU) we’ve all got to play each other,” he said. “So we’re going to play really good competition. And it’s going to be teams that are right there with us, battling to move up a spot.”
The Cougars hope to get an added lift when conference play resumes next week from Hughes, who has seen limited time on the court since breaking his finger in mid-February. After having surgery to speed up the healing process, Olmstead is optimistic Hughes could be back in his former role next week against Pepperdine.
BYU has this week off before playing its first home conference contests of the season next weekend against 7th-ranked Waves. Entering the week, the California school sits in third place in the MPSF standings. Both matches against Pepperdine are scheduled for 7 p.m. MST at Smith Fieldhouse.