BYU Men’s Volleyball: Moreno and 2004 Cougars made special memories
What does former BYU setter Carlos Moreno remember about the 2004 season?
“Everything,” Moreno said. “I remember everything.”
National championship memories rarely fade with time.
The Cougars won the NCAA title in 2004 in an epic five-set thriller against Long Beach State in Hawaii. Moreno was the national player of the year and the MVP of the Final Four.
It was also the last time BYU won an NCAA championship. Since then, the Cougars have finished as the runner-up three times (2013, 2016 and 2017).
Moreno left BYU after his junior season and played 11 years of professional volleyball in France, Brazil and Slovenia. He is now in his second season as an assistant coach for the Arizona State women’s volleyball program. Moreno earned an advertising degree from BYU and recently finished a masters in exercise science. He and his wife, Maria, have an 8-month old son, Lucas.
“Life is good in Arizona,” Moreno said.
After consecutive second-place finishes, this year’s BYU men’s volleyball team is returning to the Final Four this week in an attempt to win another gold trophy.
The 2004 team had a similar experience, finishing second the previous season and using that as motivation to fuel their title run.
“We had just one goal in mind,” Moreno said. “We knew how to get there and we just needed to get it done. It was an amazing season where you could see that all of us bought in. We were going to change the outcome. When the game (is) on the line, the difference is heart and how much you want it.”
Moreno’s father, Antonio, was a four-time Olympian for the Brazilian national team. Moreno’s twin sister, Anna Allison, is currently the head coach of the women’s program at Bucknell. She played her collegiate volleyball at Oral Roberts.
That’s where Carlos Moreno’s path to BYU started.
“I came to visit her at Oral Roberts,” he recalled. “I was just amazed. They had 60 brand new volleyballs. They had air conditioning in the gym and all kinds of new gear. I thought, ‘I want to be a part of this.’ ”
Moreno did research on successful men’s college volleyball programs in the United States and saw that BYU had just won its second title in three seasons. He called legendary Cougar coach Carl McGown, who passed away in December of 2016. McGown was well aware of the Moreno tradition in Brazil and was thrilled to have Carlos come to Provo.
Moreno was not a member of the LDS Church. He said he really didn’t understand the Honor Code or how much of a part religion played at the school.
“I remember one day Carl called me. He said, ‘Carlos, you haven’t signed your Honor Code papers.’
“I said, ‘Coach, I need to talk to you about that. What’s up with this Honor Code?’
“Carl said, ‘Carlos, are you a good boy?’
“I said, ‘Yes, Coach.’
“Then he said, ‘Carlos, do you go to church every Sunday?’
“I said, ‘Yes, Coach.’
“And he said, ‘Then come in and sign the damn papers.’ ”
Moreno was a three-year starter for BYU. The Cougars made a spirited run to the NCAA championship match in 2003 under new coach Tom Peterson before falling to upstart Lewis University. A wild first set — won by Lewis 44-42 — set the tone for a competitive, emotional finish. The Flyers won the fifth set 15-12 to claim the championship, though they would vacate the title a year late due to NCAA infractions.
BYU lost three of its first four matches to begin 2004, but then won 28 of 29 the rest of the way.
Current BYU coach Shawn Olmstead was also a part of that team as the starting libero.
“That was a very tight-knit group,” Olmstead said. “We loved the fact that we were never the biggest, strongest team, but we could grind teams out. A lot of times that season, we found ourselves down in matches. The guys just stuck together. It’s a very similar feel to this year’s team in the accountability of the players amongst each other, looking out for each other.”
That season, Moreno said missing practice for whatever reason simply wasn’t acceptable.
“We’d say, ‘Dude, wake up the middle of the night if you have to study, we need you at practice,’ ” Moreno said. “We’d send you to the ‘Dark Side’ (the south side of the Smith Fieldhouse where walk-ons and redshirts practiced). We would hold ourselves accountable to a level that was insane. We took ownership of that team.”
The Cougars claimed the MPSF Tournament title and got their revenge by sweeping Lewis in the NCAA semifinals at Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center. BYU faced an athletic Long Beach State team in the finals. After splitting the first two sets, BYU trailed 10-6 in Set 5. Moreno and his teammates rallied and fought off three Long Beach State championship points before winning 17-15 to earn the national title.
Moreno said he believes Olmstead and assistant Luka Slabe, who won a national title with the Cougars in 2001, bring the right experience to push BYU to the finals again this season.
“I’m really stoked for them,” Moreno said. “I really think the mindset that Luka and Shawn have, they have led this young team to things I don’t think they believed they could do,” Moreno said. “Luka and Shawn have been there. What they are doing over there is bigger than just one volleyball game. It’s about representing a team that’s legendary. What about pride? What about having that ‘Y’ on our chest? That’s how I see it. It’s a really big deal to hang another banner in the Fieldhouse.”
After his professional career ended, Moreno was a graduate assistant with the Southern Miss women’s volleyball program for a year before joining Sanja Tomasevic’s staff at Arizona State. Ironically, Tomasevic replaced another former Cougar, Jason Watson, who left for the head job at Arkansas.
Moreno said he’s happy in Tempe but would one day like to give back to the Cougar program.
“I have this thing about BYU,” he said. “It’s my alma mater. BYU changed my life in a way that I will be forever grateful for. It was the hardest but best thing I did in my life. It all goes back to Carl and how much he influenced our lives. He inspired so many people to become coaches and change young people’s lives.”