Second Ranked BYU Is Loaded

At the Smith Fieldhouse in front of 1,875 fans, the Cougars swept aside the Cal-Baptist Lancers with relative ease despite the presence 6-foot-5, 220-pound NAIA MVP Shamsu Awudu. The senior helped lead Cal-Baptist to three straight NAIA national titles, but his monster kills were not enough to overcome BYU's fab freshmen and all-American veterans.

After spending much of the 2006 season ranked number one in the country, the BYU men's volleyball lost five games in a row to finish the year ranked seventh. A few months after that end of year collapse, head coach Tom Peterson, resigned abruptly, and the athletic department announced that two young unproven assistants would serve as co-head coaches of a program that was under NCAA investigation. To top that recipe for disaster off, the Cougars had only two seniors on the roster – neither of them with playing experience – and roster full of freshman. In two games this season, those freshmen have proven anything but a liability.

"The freshmen have done a great job," said junior outside hitter Ivan Perez. "I can't even tell they're freshmen. Robbie [Stowell] is playing amazing. Andy [Pompei] is playing great and they're playing better than us, and you can't even tell these guys are freshman. Yamil [Perez] is playing great as well as Andrew Stewart. These guys are just stepping up and it's a new year, with new coaches, new players and a new attitude. This is a brand new team."

Ivan Perez is right, BYU's freshmen are good. During Saturday night's contest big 6-foot-7, 195-pound freshman Robbie Stowell from Newport Beach, California had more kills than Ivan, a 2006 all-American. Freshman setter Yamil Perez – no relation to Ivan although both are from Puerto Rico – and freshman libero Andy Pompei both made great passes all night to set up easy kills. Venezuelan national player turned BYU walk-on libero Joel Silva saw his first action on Saturday and appears very promising.

"It's great to have players accepting their roles," said Ivan Perez. "Last year we had a ton of good players and had a team full of stars who wanted to do everything. This year the attitude is we want to win."

Some of the players returning from last season are all-Americans Ivan Perez and Russell Holmes and former Cuban national player Yosleyder Cala. Fans who were concerned about Cala's absence from the court against Cal Baptist can rest assured that he will be back for defending national champions and third ranked UCLA next weekend.

"Cala is a great player and is an overall star," said Perez. "He's really bonded with the team and has worked hard with the team. I think he's just going to be another amazing outside hitter to help us win. He's adopted the same mentality that we all have, so it's going to be easy to get him in and get him going. It's not going to be like last year when he came in having not played for awhile. He's been working hard, and it's going to be easier for him to get going to help us win and take care of business."

With two more 2006 all-MPSF performers, BYU is loaded to the hilt with talent and ready to make another national championship run.

"We didn't meet expectations the last three years so our slogan this is we want to prove people wrong," said Perez. "We want to prove to everyone that we are the best team in the nation, and so we're doing things to take care of that. We worked really hard in spring, summer, and in the fall. We worked really hard, really hard. The team has bonded, and with all these new faces, coaches, and attitude, we're taking this new perspective and moving forward."

One player from last season who will not contribute this season is opposite hitter Johnathan Charette. Aptly nicknamed the "Flying Hawaiian," Charette is redshirting to address some lingering injuries and get his academics in order. He will be back on the team to resume his high-flying act next season.

One of the two coaches selected to lead this team of all-stars is BYU's four-time all-American and 1999 National Player of the Year Ryan Millar, who led BYU to a 30-1 record and its first National Championship in 1999.

"It's great having him as our coach," said Perez. "Last year we had a great coaching staff, but with Millar having played on the [USA] national team, he has a different perspective on the game. He may not have as much experience as a coach but he knows the game and was one of the best players, so when we have a question, he can tell from the perspective of a player. I think that really helps a lot to have someone who actually played the game at a high level with his experience to tell you how to do things. He can say, ‘Hey, I've played with the best players in the world and this is what we do.' I think he's a great addition to our team."

With the young new talent combined with all of last year's stars, this BYU volleyball team is simply scary.

"I can't really point out one specific player," Perez said. "If I were to say who to watch out for, I would just say BYU, because Yamil is such a great player and is doing a great job, Stowell is doing a great job, and it's so hard to just pick one player. Last year we knew there was Ivan and Cala, Battista and Russell who were all stars, but this year we have guys who are coming in and playing like the rest. I hurt my ankle and came out, and other guys went in, and you couldn't even tell I was out. Everyone is playing at the same level because everyone on the team is up there. Everyone is playing at an equal level and if I was playing against BYU, I honestly couldn't single out a specific player and say this is the guy we need to stop to win.

"We have Rodney Santos who is coming in to play middle. He's another freshman that is a great player and worked out with us really hard and is very quick. He's another great player coming in and does whatever is needed to win. Santos will be ready to join the team against UCLA. He'll come in and contribute on and off, but we have a lot of great depth on this team. We have Joel Silva who is also a freshman and a walk-on from Venezuela. He was on their national team that beat America's national team."

Once the experienced talent takes the floor with BYU's talented freshmen, the sky is the limit for a team currently ranked second in the nation behind UC Irvine.

"It's perfect because we have these new guys playing the way they are and then you have us guys who have some experience coming in on the wings," said Perez. "It's perfect because we'll have the experience taking the lead mixed with our really good new guys playing now. Most of our new guys are playing like they're taking the lead but they have an understanding of how to be role players. They don't know it, but even though they may be taking a back seat to some of the more experience players, they're actually showing leadership and most are playing better than some of us juniors are playing now. It's just a great opportunity to play with these guys, and we're an amazing team."

With the older and newer talent currently on BYU's roster accompanied by a new coaching staff and team attitude, Perez feels this team will be in the hunt for another national title.

"We will contend for a national championship," said Perez. "I'm not going to tell that we will win, but I will tell you that we will contend for the national championship. I promise you we're going to work as hard as we can and do what ever we can and will work as hard as we can to challenge for a national championship."

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