BYU men’s volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead always begins a season with the end in mind, hoping to get his team playing to its full potential once the schedule nears its completion. That’s right where the head coach has his troops heading into this week’s MPSF tournament. 

“We’ve been home and that’s a big advantage. We’ve communicated with these guys nonstop that in the end you’ve got to be able to win matches on the road. That’s what all great teams have to do.” — BYU volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead

“I definitely think we are (playing our best) as you look at the season, the whole picture,” Olmstead said. “Our guys have done a really good job of doing that and performing that way.”

The Cougars enter postseason play on a roll, having won eight straight matches. Six of those contests came against members of the MPSF. All eight victories, however, came at the Smith Fieldhouse, making it unclear how BYU might perform once it leaves its comfy confines in Provo for the first time since the beginning of March. 

“We’ve been home and that’s a big advantage,” Olmstead said. “We’ve communicated with these guys nonstop that in the end you’ve got to be able to win matches on the road. That’s what all great teams have to do.”

BYU will face last-place finisher Concordia in the first round of the MPSF tournament Wednesday at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion (4 p.m. MDT). The Golden Eagles are the only league foe that the Cougars defeated on the road this season. The schools’ pair of matches were won by BYU, but in vastly different fashions. The first night saw the Provo school take down Concordia with ease, earning a sweep for its first conference victory and winning every set by six or more points. The second contest went the distance, with three of the five sets requiring extra points to determine the winner. 

“That’s a team that’s going to scrap,” Olmstead said of Concordia. “I don’t think you can completely bank off the past matches that we had. … They went to Grand Canyon and won a match there. And that’s not easy. So they’re … a good team.”

Since Olmstead took over the program, the Cougars have yet to go two full seasons without an MPSF tournament title. 

“That’s definitely not something we’re discussing,” Olmstead said of that precedent. “We’ve got a big task ahead of us.” 

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BYU will try to stay focused on the tall order ahead, competing in one of the country’s toughest conference tournaments. The MPSF ended the regular season with only one unranked squad. The Cougars will begin tournament play ranked No. 6 nationally, the highest of any MPSF school outside of UCLA. 

UCLA leers from the top of the deep league, boasting a perfect 12-0 conference record and an eight-match win streak of its own. The Bruins only dropped a combined three sets in MPSF play, making them the overwhelming favorites to end the week with the coveted championship trophy and automatic bid to this year’s NCAA tournament. 

However, BYU already beat the odds to earn the league’s second seed after being picked in the preseason to finish sixth, giving the team great confidence as it heads into the conference tournament. The Cougars remain hopeful they can surprise again. 

BYU has the potential to overachieve in another area as well. The school has a shot to go to the NCAA tournament in May with an at-large bid even if it falls short of winning its ninth conference tournament title this week.

Seven schools are invited to the NCAA’s postseason, two at-large along with five others earning an automatic bid after winning their conference tournaments. The top two seeds earn byes to the semifinals.

If past precedent holds true, the Cougars simply must prove themselves to be one of the two best squads in the MPSF, the league having received at least two invitations to the national tournament every year since 1995. 

“I think that would be beyond everyone’s expectations,” Olmstead said of going to the NCAA tournament. “That would be pretty amazing. … I know that that’s kind of (my players’) goal. I know that that’s something that they want to accomplish. But I also know how incredibly hard that is. … We don’t want to sit and dwell on it and talk over and over and over about it. But I mentioned it (to my team).”

“We’ll just try to do our best and compete as hard as we can and see what happens.” 

BYU volleyball players celebrate after winning during a match at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on March 10, 2023.
The BYU Cougars bench celebrates after a winning moment during a match at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on March 10, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News