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Why BYU volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead compares this year’s team to Formula 1

BYU volleyball players celebrate a point during match against Ball State on Jan. 5, 2024, at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Utah. The Cougars swept a pair of matches against the Cardinals last weekend.
BYU volleyball players celebrate a point during match against Ball State on Jan. 5, 2024, at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Utah. The Cougars swept a pair of matches against the Cardinals last weekend. | Abby Shelton, BYU Photo

Speed. Calculation. Power.

These are some of Formula 1’s definitive characteristics, and they are some of the components BYU men’s volleyball hopes to bring to the court this year after last season’s difficult ending that saw the school’s nine-match winning streak snapped by Stanford in the MPSF tournament semifinals.

Similar to the thrill spectators feel as they watch cars whiz around the track at a Formula 1 race, the Cougars are hopeful they can produce a compelling product in 2024.

“The Formula 1 races were in Vegas a month or two ago and our guys really enjoyed that,” BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said before drawing comparisons between his team and a race car. “I tell the guys. … ‘We’ve got a really, really nice car. It’s got a strong engine. It’s built well. It’s built to win. We’ve got good tires. … How are we going to maximize this car? How are we going to control this car?’ … They understand the comparison because they know they’re strong. We’ve got some big, big strong guys. And so it’s just going to be a matter of how we drive that car; how smart we are and when we know to maximize the parts we have.”

But at the dawn of a new year, No. 9-ranked BYU’s metaphoric car remains somewhat of a mystery, even to Olmstead — who is entering his ninth season as the leader of one of the school’s most consistent programs.

“I’ve been a part of some … teams where we’ve really had some big, big superstars,” Olmstead said. “I’m very curious and interested to see how the dynamics of this team unfold because we’ve got players that could very well become superstars. But in years past, we’ve started the year with guys … where you know who they are.”

A point of emphasis this offseason has been serving, Olmstead hoping his players can serve the ball with controlled speed and power.

“We’ve got the guys that can serve,” he said. “We (must) get them in the proper mindset from the service line so that they … understand when they’re able to really, really let go from the service line — serve a little more freely — and when they need to (be in) control from the service line a little bit more.”

The ninth-year head coach will attempt to push the right buttons in 2024 as BYU returns many of its key cogs from a season ago, including five starters; however, it remains to be seen how large a leap forward the Cougars can take.

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Along with the team’s familiar faces, Olmstead has calculated into the equation contributions from lesser-known players such as sophomore libero Bernardo Adam.

“Bernardo has very, very high (volleyball) IQ,” Olmstead said. “He’s played at a very high level. He was the starting libero in the Under-19 … World Championships representing Team Brazil. … He’s going to be really exciting for the fans to see.”

The Cougars hope their experience and continuity can be a formula to make this year a special one. Last weekend offered a pint-size look into what’s to come for the school this season when it defeated then No. 11-ranked Ball State two nights in a row at the Smith Fieldhouse, earning two sweeps over the Cardinals.

Thursday, BYU will play its first of four consecutive road matches when it travels to Illinois to take on No. 10 Loyola-Chicago and remains in the Prairie State for a matchup against No. 15 Lewis on Saturday.

After playing two road matches at No. 14 UC Santa Barbara next weekend, the Cougars will return to Provo for 10 straight contests in the Smith Fieldhouse, where they have won 16 in a row.

Olmstead feels the home-heavy portion of BYU’s schedule could play an important role for his team this year.

“The value of being able to be at home and get in our routines and be in your comfort zones, that’s a really big deal,” he said.

If the Cougars can take care of business in their 10 consecutive matches in Provo, which concludes with two contests against defending national champion and No. 1-ranked UCLA, it could put them in the MPSF driver’s seat.

Olmstead feels he might have the car to do just that. It looks and sounds the part. Now he’s ready to test it.

“You show up to the racetrack and turn the ignition on, there’s no doubt in my mind, you’re going to hear a nice car, a nasty-sounding engine that sounds like it’s ready to go,” he said. “And you know, who can we put in the driver’s seat and how do we maximize that car and make it the fastest and most consistent car on the track that everyone’s aware of whenever they’ve got to line up against it?”

Those are the questions Olmstead and the Cougars will try to answer as they work to make sure everyone hears their engine roar in 2024.

BYU’s Luke Benson reacts to a point during match against Ball State Jan. 5, 2025, in Provo, Utah. | Abby Shelton, BYU Photo
BYU’s Luke Benson reacts to a point during match against Ball State Jan. 5, 2025, in Provo, Utah. | Abby Shelton, BYU Photo