Digging Deep - Y Magazine
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Digging Deep

The men's volleyball team scored points when it counted to win its third national championship in six years.

NCAA gathered in wrapped fingers
During a break in the action of the NCAA championship, BYU players gather in, clasp tape-wrapped fingers, and mentally prepare to face a tough Long Beach State team. Photo by Jaren Wilkey.

All’s well that ends well.

Shaking off a slow start in May’s national championship match in Honolulu, the top-ranked BYU men’s volleyball team emerged victorious over Long Beach State University after five nail-biting games to claim its third national championship in six years.

After finding themselves on the wrong end of a 15-30 game-one defeat—their worst ever rally-scoring loss—the Cougars clawed their way back against the 49ers, winning the second and fourth games 30-18 and 32-30 with LBSU taking game three 20-30.

In the fifth game, a 15-point tiebreaker, BYU again faced a deficit, 6-10. Saving two championship points, they finally capitalized on one of their three match points to win in dramatic fashion, 19-17. “I don’t know how we won tonight,” BYU head coach Tom L. Peterson, ’78, said. “On the stat sheet, they outplayed us. But, the bottom line is, it just seemed like we had the heart whenever we needed it. The team absolutely did it at the end, just like they’ve done all year.” The Cougars also overcame a rocky start in January when they dropped three of their first four matches. But they recovered quickly, reeling off 21 straight victories against formidable top-ranked opponents like Cal State Northridge, Hawaii, Pacific, and Stanford.

volleyball hands high

They spent the final two months of the season perched atop the USA Today/AVCA Coaches Top 15 Poll and finished the year with 29 victories and only four loses. Behind the 30 victories of the 1999 men’s team, the 29 wins mark the second highest single-season win total in BYU volleyball history. “I don’t know how many matches we were down in this season, but it was a big number. Maybe it’s because we’ve been there before, maybe it’s a team of destiny. But it sure doesn’t show up in the stats—what these guys have inside,” Peterson said. “It’s all about heart and playing as a team. That’s exactly how we won.”

The Cougars reached the national championship match by first claiming the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship with defeats of No. 8 UC Irvine, No. 4 Pepperdine, and No. 2 Long Beach State. Next came a rematch with defending national champion Lewis in the semifinal round of the NCAA championships. This year, revenge proved to be sweet as BYU defeated Lewis 30-21, 30-28, 30-21.

“It was a hard loss for me last year and a hard loss for these guys,” Peterson said. “That’s what you have to focus in on. You don’t want to have that feeling again.”

arms raised screaming sports

This year the team was led by a solid core of returning players, four of whom received All-American honors. Junior setter Carlos H. Moreno, ’05, received first-team honors and was the first BYU player named AVCA National Player of the Year, while senior Fernando F. Pessoa, ’04, was also a first-team pick. Joseph D. Hillman, ’04, and Victor A. Batista, ’06, garnered second-team mentions. In addition, having led Penn State to a national crown in 1994, Peterson became the first men’s volleyball coach in NCAA history to win a national championship with two different schools.

Looking back on the season after winning the national championship, Peterson reflected, “Tonight was a perfect lesson—you just can’t give up. I want to say that everyone on this team is special. We’ve been like a family all year long. Tonight, before the match, I wrote family, team, and heart on the board. That’s what this team has been all about this season.”