BYU Men’s Volleyball: Young players return for another run in 2019

May 6, 2018 GMT

The story of how Gabi Garcia Fernandez ended up at BYU is well told and pretty amazing.

The Puerto Rican sensation was heavily recruited by Shawn Olmstead and his staff but ultimately decided to sign with Cal Baptist. The Lancers’ program was scuttled in the spring of 2017 and Fernandez made a call to the Cougars asking if they still had room for him.

Oh, yeah, they did.

The 6-foot-7 opposite hitter had a sensational first season in Provo, earning second-team AVCA All-American and MPSF Freshman of the Year honors. He averaged 3.48 kills per set while hitting .274. He also led the Cougars with 51 service aces.

“Gabi is a great player,” UCLA senior Jake Arnitz said. “He can serve the ball like no else can in our conference. He gets up there consistently and can rip the ball 70-plus (miles per hour). I think it’s pretty rare and he’s going to be scary later on in college. I’m glad I’m leaving. But yeah, he’s hard to read. They set him inside and then outside still so it’s hard to set up on him consistently and know where he’s going to go.”

Fernandez is one of three top freshmen who made significant contributions for the Cougars in 2018.

Middle blocker Felipe de Brito Ferreira, who is from Brazil, was pressed into service when senior Price Jarman broke his pinky finger and missed eight matches in the middle of the season. Ferreira contributed 59 kills, 63 block assists and six solo blocks while starting 14 matches.

In addition, freshman libero Zach Hendrickson ended up winning the starting job and helped solidify the Cougars’ serve-receive game, logging 101 digs.

“They’ve done a great job,” Olmstead said. “Zach came out here and was playing libero for the first time. Filipe and Gabi came to BYU at a high level because they’ve been representing their countries and on their clubs, so they were comfortable. We knew it was going to take time, but that just goes to the senior leadership of this team, bringing them through and learning the ropes along the way.

“They’ve done a remarkable job adjusting. They’re still learning every day. Sometimes we’ve got to knock them in the back of the head to get them in check, showing them how we do things at BYU. But the best part about this team is the accountability amongst themselves. Teammates hold everyone accountable and are teaching them in those moments.”

Senior Leo Durkin leaves a pretty big hole to fill at setter. The Las Vegas native started three seasons for the Cougars and ended up second all-time in assists at BYU. Durkin and Olmstead had a special friendship. Olmstead said he and his wife would often go to dinner with Durkin and his wife just because they enjoyed each other’s company so much.

Sophomore Wil Stanley has been groomed as Durkin’s replacement and sophomore outside hitter Cyrus Fa’alogo was a setter before switching positions at Long Beach City College last season.

Miki Jauhiainen, a 6-8 sophomore from Finland, has started 24 matches in his career and will likely start alongside Ferreira in the middle next season.

Brenden Sander, who finished his BYU career second all-time in aces and fifth in kills, will be difficult to replace on the outside. Fa’alogo and fellow sophomores Andrew Lincoln, Zach Eschenberg and Storm Fa’agata-Tufugu will compete there but will be pushed by a pair of high-profile incoming freshmen.

Davide Gardini is a 6-9 outside hitter and one of the top young players in Italy. His father, Andrea, is a three-time Olympian. In addition, the Cougars will add one of California’s top players in 6-6 Tim Baldwin.

It will be a busy off-season for Olmstead, who will be looking for a new coaching staff. Lead assistant Luka Slabe is leaving to become an assistant with the USA women’s national team under Karch Kiraly. Jaylen Reyes will join John Cook’s coaching staff at Nebraska, which won the women’s national title in 2017.

“They were with me from the start,” Olmstead said. “I’m super excited for both of them. I’m 100 percent supportive throughout the entire process. Both Luka and Jay have had a handful of opportunities that they’ve passed on over the years. They are deserving. They are two of the best coaches in our game, hands down. They stuck around and very rarely do you have the entire staff that’s alumni of the program. So I know that BYU means the world to them for their experiences as a player and now coaches.”

BYU has been to the Final Four in five of the past six seasons and has advanced to the national championship match in three of those years. The last NCAA title for the Cougars came in 2004.