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Will No. 6 BYU rise to the occasion at MPSF tournament?

BYU players celebrate a big point during match against UCLA on Feb. 23, 2024, at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo. The Cougars begin MPSF tournament play Wednesday night against USC.
BYU players celebrate a big point during match against UCLA on Feb. 23, 2024, at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo. The Cougars begin MPSF tournament play Wednesday night against USC. | Joey Garrison, BYU Photo

At the end of the regular season, the No. 6-ranked BYU men’s volleyball team finds itself in third place in the MPSF standings, right where it was picked to finish in the conference’s preseason coaches poll.

“Great teams, they capitalize on any little wiggle room the other team gives (them). They take full advantage of it. (When) the other team’s back is against the wall … good and great teams … hit them even harder and capitalize on that.”

BYU volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead

It marks the third straight season that the school has not finished in the league’s top spot — the first time in 12 years that BYU has gone three consecutive seasons without a conference title. Still, the Cougars have proven they have what it takes to compete with the nation’s best, giving BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead and his players hope as they begin their much-anticipated conference tournament this week.

“This is what everyone in any athletic endeavor at this level … is looking forward to,” Olmstead said. “This is what you ideally practice every day for … to be at a point where we feel like we’re playing pretty good volleyball.”

The Cougars have had a unique season, posting a better record on the road than they did at home for the first time in eight years. The school will try to keep things steadier while playing to their full potential in the postseason.

When asked if he feels his team is playing its best volleyball at the right time, Olmstead did not think so, but was optimistic that the school would reach that point when it mattered most.

“I really do believe that we are going down the right path of getting to ideally (our) best,” he said. “I think we’re going the right way.”

BYU has a lot to play for as it tries to win its first conference tournament since 2021. Prior to last season, it had been over a decade since the Cougars had gone two consecutive league tournaments without hoisting the trophy. Still, that is not top of mind for Olmstead.

“That doesn’t cross my mind; never has, probably never will,” he said. “If we can get to the best our team can be, we’re going to be in a really, really good place.”

Winning the MPSF tournament would put BYU in the best place it has been this season. It would take some big victories, competing in a league that boasts an impressive five teams ranked in the top 10. The winner of the conference tournament will be rewarded with an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament with another at-large bid likely going to a second MPSF squad.

Olmstead feels that the Cougars need to do a better job at taking advantage of every opportunity in order to find success in postseason play.

“Great teams, they capitalize on any little wiggle room the other team gives (them),” he said. “They take full advantage of it. (When) the other team’s back is against the wall … good and great teams … hit them even harder and capitalize on that.”

Olmstead particularly felt his team could have taken advantage of its opportunities in the season-finale loss to USC, who will be hosting the MPSF tournament and face BYU in the first round.

“When we were down at USC two weeks ago, we had a really nice opportunity the second night,” he said. “We had won the first set pretty well. We were then up big … in the second set and we didn’t capitalize on that.”

The two schools split their pair of contests, the first night going to the Cougars and the next to the Trojans.

BYU will need to learn from its disappointing season-ending experience when it meets USC Wednesday. Olmstead feels that his team’s depth could play a big factor in Los Angeles this week.

“We’ve played a handful of different guys this year,” Olmstead said. “I think that is something that plays to our advantage. We feel really comfortable if we’ve got to make some switches. … That’s what our strength has been. I think that was our strength last year (too).”

If BYU gets past No. 6 seed USC, it will likely face off against No. 2 seed Grand Canyon. The Lopes swept the Cougars two nights in a row back in February at Smith Fieldhouse. Since then, the Provo school has gone 7-3, with its biggest win of the season coming over currently No. 1-ranked UCLA.

Ultimately, each team will have a clean slate when the conference tournament begins Wednesday. BYU will take on USC for a third consecutive contest that evening. This time, there will be much more on the line than the prior two meetings. The rubber match is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. MDT.

BYU players stand for the national anthem prior to match against UCLA on Feb. 23, 2024, at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo. | Joey Garrison, BYU Photo
BYU players stand for the national anthem prior to match against UCLA on Feb. 23, 2024, at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo. | Joey Garrison, BYU Photo