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International players vital to BYU's volleyball success

Published March 31, 2017 4:22 pm

BYU volleyball • Cougars don't shy away from bringing in foreign players.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • Imagine signing to play a high-level college sport at a major university in a faraway country that you've never stepped in before.

Then imagine that school is Brigham Young University, where the strict honor code and daily way of life is as foreign to you as the food and the language.

Germany's Tim Dobbert, Bulgaria's Kiril Meretev and Finland's Miki Jauhiainen have done that, Dobbert and Meretev the past four years and Jauhiainen the past year as three international members of BYU's No. 3-ranked men's volleyball team. They are not members of the faith that owns and operates the school, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and were mostly unaware of Mormons and their culture before arriving in the United States.

And they lived to tell about it.

"I came here sight unseen four years ago," said Meretev, a senior from Saedinenie, Bulgaria, who will graduate in April with a degree in tourism and a minor in business. "It was culture shock at first, no question. The LDS culture was different at first, took some getting used to. But I never really had a problem with it. Everything is fine. I like it."

Dobbert, from Aichelberg, Germany, also arrived in Provo in 2014 for the first time ever after being recruited by former coach Chris McGown and associate head coach Rob Neilson. The 6-foot-10 Dobbert took a medical redshirt in 2015 after suffering a season-ending injury early that year, so he is a junior in eligibility. He will graduate next month with a degree in mechanical engineering and is still trying to decide whether to come back for another year or turn professional, as the 6-8 Meretev plans to do.

"I heard good things about BYU, having talked to other players, but there wasn't time to make a visit before I had to decide," Dobbert said. "Rob Neilson helped me a lot to figure out what it was going to be like. I talked to Josue Rivera and Jalen Reyes about the experience for non-members. They liked it. They said it was going to be culture shock for sure, but college-wise and degree-wise what you are going to get out of it is going to be unreal. They were right."

Jauhiainen, a 6-8 member of the 2017 Finnish Senior National Team, also signed before he met the head coach in person, in his case Shawn Olmstead, who took over for McGown in 2015. The freshman's tie to BYU was assistant coach Luka Slabe, a former Cougar outside hitter who made a similar trek to Provo, sight unseen, from Slovenia in 2000 and was a key part of BYU's 2001 national championship team.

"So far, it's been great. I love it here," Jauhiainen said.

Olmstead said Slabe, coach of Slovenia's national team from 2013 to 2015, has strong connections internationally and throughout Europe and plans to continue to tap that pipeline with the help of his friend Lauri Hakala, the Finnish national team coach who alerted him of Jauhiainen.

Meretev is the program's first player from Bulgaria and Jauhiainen the first from Finland; Dobbert is the third from Germany, but by far the most successful from that country. He has helped the Cougars to a 21-3 record and lofty national ranking while star opposite hitter Ben Patch has been out with a groin injury. Patch returned last weekend to help BYU split a pair of matches with No. 2 Long Beach State.

"I'm definitely glad I did it, made the leap of faith to come here," Dobbert said. "The level of play is really high here — higher than I expected. And just the experience of being in the United States, getting away from home, seeing-the-world kind of thing, has been really cool."

BYU's program has had nearly 50 players from 18 foreign countries since the late Carl McGown began building the program in 1990 with several foreigners. Puerto Rico has supplied the most international players to BYU, followed by Brazil.

"It will absolutely continue [under his direction]," Olmstead said. "I look at the success of teams I was on [2000-2004], and the first national championship team Karl coached, and they all had internationals. So absolutely, we plan to keep it going."

drew@sltrib.com Twitter: @drewjay






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