For the first time since 2004, BYU is in the men’s volleyball NCAA Tournament after winning its conference championship during the weekend.
BYU under second-year head coach Chris McGown earned the No. 1 overall seed in the four-team NCAA Tournament and will play the No. 4 seed Penn State in the semifinals on Thursday in Los Angeles.
Off the Block on Monday conducted an interview with McGown to discuss his team’s upcoming semifinal match against Penn State, how BYU is preparing for its first NCAA Tournament in almost a decade and the performance of All-American outside attacker Taylor Sander.
Check out the transcript from the interview below.
Off the Block: Coach, you’re playing Penn State in the semifinals on Thursday. What’s your initial thoughts of that match?
Chris McGown, BYU: We want to make sure that we get into the rhythm of playing in Pauley [Pavilion]. We want to make sure that the practices out there are good practices and our pregame is solid. And we’re going to just play as hard as we can and kind of do what we’ve been doing all season. [Penn State coach Mark] Pavlik is a wonderful coach and always puts together good programs and great teams. We have a lot of respect for them and understand that there are no givens at this point and nothing is going to come easy. We want to make sure that even though we’re the No. 1 seed and their the No. 4 seed that we are taking care of everything that we can take care of and working as hard as we possibly can and playing hard at every point.
OTB: Has been it easy to get your team focused on the NCAA Tournament just days after winning a pretty emotional conference tournament championship on your home court?
CM: That was one of the things said in your locker room after the match. We told them, “Hey this is wonderful and you guys have accomplished a lot. But it’s only the second of three goals that we had this season.” The first was winning a regular season championship, the second was a conference championship and the third goal is winning a national championship. So we told the boys to enjoy it, soak it all in, enjoy it a little bit tomorrow and then on Monday come back ready to work because we got this third goal that we are trying to achieve and like I said it doesn’t come easy.
OTB: Coach, talking about two of the players on your team this year, opposite Ben Patch and outside attacker Taylor Sander. Both were named All-Americans. Can you talk a little bit about their development this season.
CM: Taylor is a obviously a wonderful volleyball player. He’s got an extremely good sense of the game and he’s got wonderful vision. He’s just a natural when it comes to making changes and making upgrades to his mechanics. So he’s been able to do a lot of that. I think where he’s grown the most this year is in his leadership, and his ability to demand more of his teammates and his ability to be an example to his teammates. He’s also got an understanding that it doesn’t all have to be on him. He doesn’t have to win every match for us, so he’s kind of settled in where if things aren’t going as well as he liked attacking, he continues to be a great passer and continues to help us from the service line, defensively at the net and then just in terms of team energy and cohesion. His leadership and maturity and the development in those areas has been massive for us. Ben Patch has been almost this wonderful surprise for us to some extent. We knew he was a physical kid with a lot of abilities. You look at him and he’s tall and long and can jump. So you know there is something there, but just the way he’s been able to pick up some of the subtleties of the game as an attacker and the way he’s been able to stay consistent. I’ve seen his serving improve in the last month. He’s really upgraded his game from when we first got in him in the gym, and that’s been remarkable.
OTB: This going to be the team and your first NCAA Tournament appearance. But on your coaching staff you have your father Carl McGown and Mike Wilton who both have Final Four experience. Does that experience on the coaching staff help you in preparation for the Final Four?
CM: Absolutely. There is so much to be said for a demeanor and the voice of someone who has been there before, that has gone through what we are about to go through and can talk to us in terms of what to expect and how to kind of handle ourselves. I think for sure that experience and that maturity. That element from our coaching staff is important.
OTB: Coach you’re playing Penn State in the semifinals after playing them last season in non-conference play. Is it nice to play an opponent you are somewhat familiar with or is it one of these situations because of the roster turnover on Penn State you pretty much have to throwout last year’s tapes?
CM: We’ll throw away what we did last year with them. We won’t evaluate any of that. We’ll look at their current film and what they are doing currently this year. It is a little bit difficult to try to prepare for someone you don’t see a lot and don’t really have a good sense of. What we have to rely on in those circumstances is a general game plan and an overall here’s some principles we want to play by. Then we just have to fall back on our fundamentals, and hope that we’ve trained all year in a way to be fundamentally sound. I think that more than anything is the issue in these Final Fours. Teams will know each other to some extent, but more than anything it’s the team that can execute the fundamentals over the course of the entire match.
OTB: Coach, we see it every home match the amount of fan support your team receives. This NCAA Tournament is going to be in Los Angeles, but are you still expecting to have a large amount of fan support at there?
CM: It’s one of the best parts about being a part of the BYU program and playing for BYU: just how well BYU travels. I’ve got a ton of people telling me that they are coming to our match. People have called and said they’ve tried to get tickets at Pauley Pavilion and nothing below the concourse is available. That’s pretty neat to think that the entire bottom half of the Pavilion is sold-out. With any luck a good percentage of those and majority will be BYU fans.