Life without graduated four-time All-American outside attacker Taylor Sander will be an adjustment for BYU coach Chris McGown, but it’s a challenge he is embracing.
McGown said in a recent interview with Off the Block that despite not having a returning All-American player, BYU has now more overall depth on its roster than it had in previous seasons.
Check out Off the Block’s interview with McGown as the coach discusses changes BYU made during the off-season, having a more collective team approach for the upcoming season and the development of highly recruited freshman outside attacker Brenden Sander.
Off the Block: Coach, it’s been about eight months since we last saw your team in Chicago playing in the NCAA Tournament. What has this off-season been like for BYU?
Chris McGown: It’s been great. One of the things we looked at was that we keep coming up short in the NCAA Tournament. And just kind of continued to be introspective and figure out ways our team can be better, our coaching staff can be better, and I think we worked really hard in identifying areas where we weren’t as good as we wanted to be. A lot of that was stuff that was off the court. It wasn’t necessarily our practice methods or the way we played volleyball. It had to do with team culture stuff and how we were training to some degree and what we were training. That’s been a big area of emphasis for us. I think the guys have been great. They have worked really hard. They came in great after the summer, which isn’t always the case, and really got at it this fall.
OTB: Has there been a player this off-season that really impressed you and stood-out with his off-season development?
CM: It’s interesting, in the past we’ve had kind of superstars. Since I took over the team, it seems like our roster has always had a lot of guys that were always really, really spectacular players. I think that with Taylor [Sander] graduating to some degree that isn’t the case anymore. Rather than one or two guys standing out, what really stands out to me is just the depth that we got in each position. We’ve got six quality outsides. We’ve got three really good opposites. We’ve got three really setters. We’ve got three really good liberos. We’ve got three really good middles. It’s interesting to see the depth that our team has, as opposed to one or two players being phenomenal. It’s been really deep. The one player who has made quite a jump if I had to pick out one is Tim Dobbert, our opposite from Germany. He’s come in. He’s worked really hard. He’s a physical kid. He’s worked really hard to increase his physicality. I think to some degree he’s bought into the BYU way of doing things, which as a foreign transfer student that isn’t always the easiest thing to do. You come from another country, and you like the way you did it there. Obviously, wherever you go it’s going to be a little bit different. We sat down and talked, and he said “I just decided that I was going to do everything that was asked of me in the program, and just buy in 100 percent.” It’s really shown.
OTB: You mentioned that your team for the upcoming season won’t have that one big superstar and that it will be more of an overall collective effort. How does that change your mind-set going into matches or even your match preparation knowing that it’s going to be more of an overall team effort.
CM: I don’t know if it changes it much. We’ll still kind of do things the way we’ve been doing them. Train basically the way we’ve been training. On our team it’s very much a meritocracy, so the guys who are playing well in practice and working hard in practice are the guys we will see in matches. Although, I think to some degree there will probably be a greater willingness to tryout different line-ups to see how different guys perform in matches. Things were perhaps little bit more structured and set with our line-ups in the past, and they might not be to the same degree this year.
OTB: Looking at the upcoming season, the preseason coaches polls haven’t been released yet. However, how do you think this team will fare in the MPSF during the upcoming season?
CM: It’s really hard to predict that given how much turnover there has been in our conference. There are so many teams that turned over great players. It’s interesting to see this wave of really, really impressive guys go through. Long Beach [State] lost a bunch of their guys. [UC] Irvine to some degree. UCLA, Stanford and we did. A lot of really nice players graduated. As competitive as the league is, as good as everyone is always it’s hard for me to predict where we are going to end up. Certainly we have benefitted from having Taylor in the line-up for the last couple of years. We’ll see what life is like without him to some degree.
OTB: Talking about a Sander, I’m sure you’ve been asked this dozens of times this off-season. However, Taylor Sander’s younger brother Brenden Sander is starting his freshman season with BYU in 2015. How has he looked in the preseason and could we expect to see him on the court as a freshman?
CM: He’s looked great. He’s working hard. It’s funny, when we sat down early in the year and had a chance to talk to each other I said, look for a while you’re going to be oh, you’re Taylor’s brother. I said that’s just the way it’s going to be. For the first couple of years when I started coaching, it was always oh, you’re Carl’s son. After awhile it goes away, and people just remember you for being you. I said, for a while it will be oh you’re Taylor’s brother and people will compare your game to his. I said, don’t worry about it. People compare my coaching to my dad’s. My dad won these national championships and was a great coach. I said Taylor is his own guy. You are your own guy. Just be great in your own right, and do everything you can and things will be good. He’s playing really well. He’s got nice physicality. He’s got nice ball control. Obviously, he’s got lots to learn in terms of systems and just general polish as a volleyball player. But he comes in with a lot experience and is doing a lot of things really well. Best of all, he’s a great kid. He wants to be great. He works really hard. Watching film and meeting with us, he’s engaged in the learning process at a really high level.