Though the No. 6-ranked BYU men’s volleyball team honored its seniors last Saturday evening in their final match at the Smith Fieldhouse, time hasn’t run out on the seniors’ careers. With two matches left in the regular season and the MPSF tournament waiting in the distance, there still is a lot for the Cougars to play for.

“So I’m just proud of these guys that they started (their degrees) and look like they’re going to be finishing up here soon. And so that in and of itself, it’s an accomplishment. And then along the way, we’ve been able to win some volleyball games. So you can’t complain too much about that.”

—  BYU coach Shawn Olmstead

Still, the Provo school had a lot to celebrate Saturday when it focused on opposite hitter Kupono Browne, middle blocker Gavin Julien and outside hitter Jon Stanley.

Each of the three seniors arrived at BYU in different years. Stanley joined his brother Wil on the volleyball team in 2019; Julien became a Cougar the next season; and Browne found his way to Provo through the transfer portal two years after that.

Julien grew up in Wisconsin, an area seldom recruited by BYU. He was identified by Cougars’ assistant coach Devin Young before Young ever took a job on Shawn Olmstead’s staff.

“One thing led to another and we started recruiting him,” Olmstead said of Julien. “It was really apparent that we wanted him.”

After redshirting his freshman year, he has played in 79 matches for BYU.

“He kind of just keeps going, steady Eddie,” Olmstead said. “Here we are now celebrating his senior year. But Gavin has done a great job. He’s been someone that’s played that position now for a handful of years. He’s improved every year and (he’s) a great student.”

Browne, too, has made a big impact during his three seasons at BYU. The Cougars were one of Browne’s suitors before he chose Stanford out of high school. When he entered the transfer portal, the two sides reconnected. Since then, Browne has made up for any lost time.

“He just gets better and better every year,” Olmstead said of Browne. “He’s got a really, really good arm; a heavy arm, a fast arm. He definitely enjoys the excitement of a game day, of the matches. You can see that in his energy. … He brings a really good pressure from the service line. He’s just really embraced whatever his role is for our team.”

BYU opposite hitter Kupono Browne goes for a spike during victory over 24 Concordia on Saturday, March 30, 2024, a Smith Fieldhouse in Provo.
BYU opposite hitter Kupono Browne goes for a spike during victory over Concordia on Saturday, March 30, 2024, at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo. | Abby Shelton, BYU Photo

Though Olmstead will miss every graduating player, he likely will have the hardest time saying goodbye to Stanley; perhaps more so than any player he has ever coached.

“Coaches like to say they don’t have favorites,” Olmstead said. “But I’ve got a favorite, and it’s Jon Stanley. And (he’ll) probably be forever my favorite. … He’s changed the hearts of every single person he’s come in contact with and he’s never, ever, ever done anything or said anything about himself.”

Stanley is not only a selfless player and teammate, but lives his life thinking of others.

“He checks in on everybody: the secretaries, the teachers, … that’s just Jon,” Olmstead said. “I don’t know how he accomplishes what he accomplishes in a day other than he just must not sleep. Because he’s always with friends. He’s always picking somebody up.”

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Regarding this group of seniors, one of the things about which Olmstead is most proud is the work they have done as students, while also performing at a high level on the volleyball court. “That can be difficult,” he said. “So I’m just proud of these guys that they started (their degrees) and look like they’re going to be finishing up here soon. And so that in and of itself, it’s an accomplishment. And then along the way, we’ve been able to win some volleyball games. So you can’t complain too much about that.”

All of the accomplishments, celebrations and time spent together make Senior Night a bit more special than a regular match. But what is that night like from a coach’s perspective?

“It’s usually pretty … emotional,” Olmstead said. “You’re happy for the kids. For the most part, those kids have been with you for a handful of years. So there’s a lot of gratitude present.”

The focus then quickly turns from gratitude and all other emotions to competing in a match and finishing out the year playing the team’s best volleyball.

“It’s never the last game of the season,” Olmstead said of Senior Night. “So you’re kind of like, ‘Alright, this is great and all, and I want to celebrate these kids, but (we have) a little more to play for. Let’s regroup and keep playing.’”

BYU will continue playing this weekend with a pair of matches on the road against No. 13 USC. The contests will be played on Friday and Saturday, both beginning at 7 p.m. MDT.

BYU outside hitter Jon Stanley reacts during Senior Night March 30, 2024, at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo.
BYU outside hitter Jon Stanley reacts during Senior Night, March 30, 2024, at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo. | Abby Shelton, BYU Photo