Projected preseason top 10 national rankings: No. 1 BYU

BYU is projected by Off the Block to be No. 1 in the preseason national rankings.

Off the Block throughout December and January will reveal its projected men’s volleyball preseason top 10 national rankings and will profile a top-10 team each day. The Off the Block projected preseason rankings were created independently of the AVCA Coaches Poll and the Volleyball Magazine Top 10 Media Poll.

The college men’s volleyball season begins this week and concludes with the Final Four in May.

Check out what to know about BYU as it enters the 2012 season.

First-year head coach Chris McGown has six starters from last season returning for the upcoming season. Among the starters includes three Off the Block Preseason All-Americans — outside attackers Robb Stowell and Taylor Sander and middle attacker Futi Tavana. Sander, the 2011 AVCA Newcomer of the Year, was among the nation’s leaders in kills per game average last season. The sophomore also played for the United States at the World Championships in August and was second in the international tournament in kills. Injuries, though, could be a problem for the Cougars at the beginning of the season. School officials said this fall that Tavana had an undisclosed injury and will miss the start of the season. Despite the injury, BYU was projected to win the conference in the MPSF Preseason Coaches Poll.

The Cougars finished the regular season in second place in the MPSF and No. 2 in the national rankings. However, BYU was upset on its home court by UC Santa Barbara in the MPSF Tournament quarterfinals. The loss prevented the Cougars from advancing to their first Final Four in more than five seasons. BYU in non-conference play last season won the UC Santa Barbara Invitational and won a road match against then-No. 14 Lewis.


BYU will open its season with a match against UC Irvine in the first round of the UC Santa Barbara Invitational on Friday. BYU was projected to win the MPSF and UC Irvine was picked to finish in second place in the conference preseason coaches poll. This match also has the potential to be one of the first times in NCAA men’s volleyball history that the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the national rankings will play each other during the first week of the regular season. For more on BYU’s upcoming schedule, check out the team’s complete schedule breakdown.

[Editor’s note: Off the Block interviewed Chris McGown in July after he was named the Cougars new head coach. This is an excerpt from that earlier interview.]

Off the block: What are you hoping to bring to BYU men’s volleyball?

Chris McGown: One of things that we’ve done really well in recent years is we have put good players on the floor. They did a wonderful job recruiting and putting in a pipe line of players. So it has been lacking to bring talent to bare [a championship]. The two things we want to do different is create more of a team culture. We want to be more team oriented and not be OTB: Prior to this position you worked with Gold Medal Squared volleyball camps and was an assistant coach with the BYU women’s volleyball team. How different is it going to be coaching a men’s team?

OTB: Prior to this position you worked with Gold Medal Squared volleyball camps and was an assistant coach with the BYU women’s volleyball team. How different is it going to be coaching a men’s team?

CM: The biggest difference with coaching the girls is they will almost instantly trust you. If you say go do this, they will say alright. It takes longer getting to that point with guys for them to trust you with any match or individual changes you want them to make. … You have to establish that trust with guys and they have to know that you know what you are talking about and doing what you say will make their game better. That trust doesn’t come as easily with guys. … Trust for me is the biggest thing. We are training similarly as the women’s team, doing the same drills and it’s the same process. The game is different, and you have to do things faster and a little differently. However, we are training very similarly and developing that trust factor.

OTB: You have three All-Americans — Taylor Sander, Robb Stowell and Futi Tavana — returning for the 2012 season. Is the expectation to win a national championship?

CM: It’s an interesting thought. The guys when I talk to them, it makes them nervous to talk about that. We have that for a goal. We expect to be in that position year in and year out to compete for a title. I asked them, “do you think it’s a bad place to be?” When I played in the ’90s UCLA was winning championships all the time. Every year all those guys assumed they would win and would be in a position to win a title. They carried themselves differently from everyone else and expected to win. They knew they were great and everyone was gunning from them, but at the end of the day they knew they were going to be in the national championship. That’s not a bad position to be in. We have a good collection of players, and I don’t want to shy away from that expectation. I want to get them to be like those UCLA teams and embrace it. Of course we are good and expect to be in it, and I’d be disappointed if we weren’t. I want to change the nature of the team to have that expectation, and for the players coming back I have high hopes of them wanting to wear that label.

OTB: Have there been any players who have positively surprised you since you took the job?

CM: I would not say I was surprised, but one of the things about BYU is the special nature of the university. As much as we do on the court as a team and as volleyball players, one of the things we want to do more of is serve the community. Whether it’s at a hospital or a retirement home, we want to help out a little bit. It is good for the guys, and it is good to do this as a team and do other things as a team on other places besides the court. In individual interviews with the guys that was a big deal for them, and they were excited about that and talking about the team. It’s exciting and important for your life [to serve]. It really resinated with them and that was important. I think with a lot of college athletes you think of them as egoists, and I think a lot of [our players] have an orientation of helping others and being a role model as an athlete.

OTB: Your father was the first BYU men’s volleyball coach in program history. What is it like to have the same job that your father once had?

CM: It’s surreal. It’s surreal when you are sitting in his exact old office and working at his old desk. I remember coming in as a kid when I was 13-14 years old after going to play basketball, and I’m now at his old desk and looking out the same window I used to look out of. It doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like it’s mine. It’s crazy. In the short history of BYU it’s been a really good program, and when I was a player it wasn’t a good program, and I got to see it grow. For sure being the new coach that comes with a lot of humiliation, and it is a legacy of not only my dad but of all the other coaches. It’s a great program, and how has it been: it’s humbling. It’s surreal. People ask did you ever see this happening, and I say of course not. My dad has a favorite thing to say these days: man has plans and God laughs. In these circumstance it doesn’t feel real yet.a collection of individuals. We need to learn how to behave as a team and work in a way that puts the needs of the program ahead of the needs of the individual. I’m hoping to do things to create this culture and place an early emphasis on those kind of thoughts and process for sure. You don’t learn those things in one day and get great at them immediately. … I think the other thing that we are going to change that I could see from when I saw some of their practices is that BYU did well in game-like training. They play a lot of volleyball at practice, but the fundamental mastery is not at the level it needed to be. … We are going to spend some time going a little slower and still do game-like drills, but we want the focus to be that of fundamental skill mastery and we want to do it perfect.