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Columbus, Ohio • Some significant changes, including an expanded field, probably are coming to the NCAA men's volleyball championships in the next few years. Another automatic bid surely will be justified as the Big West Conference adds men's volleyball in 2018 and takes five teams away from the perennially dominant Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
But everything pretty much looks the same for now for the third-seeded BYU Cougars as they enter the six-team tournament this week at Ohio State's St. John Arena as an at-large entrant. Most of the players who lost 3-0 to Ohio State in last year's final at Penn State are back and eager to make amends for that setback that cost BYU its fourth national title.
"I believe that this is going to be some familiar territory for them," BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said. "They won't be taking it all in in terms of being wide-eyed and saying 'wow' to the moment and all the things that are going to be over there."
The Cougars (24-4), who haven't played since getting swept 3-0 by Hawaii in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament semifinals April 20, will take on sixth-seeded Barton College, champion of Conference Carolinas, at 4 p.m. MDT Tuesday in an opening-round match.
BYU made the trip to Columbus on Sunday night.
"We structured [last] week so we are not just going to grind through everything," Olmstead said. "We actually structured it so they had a day off completely Thursday, and then we [practiced] Friday and Saturday to be able to not have too much time off before that match, if that makes sense."
Star opposite hitter Ben Patch said the loss hasn't nicked BYU's confidence, which was soaring after the Cougars knocked off No. 2 seed Long Beach State in Provo on March 24. BYU lost 3-0 to LBSU the next night, however, and won three straight before the loss to the fourth-seeded Warriors.
"Honestly, we've been really, really consistent and confident throughout our whole season," Patch said. "As a team, we are super, super close. Our chemistry, and the culture of our team is always just to persevere and work hard. We've lost before and we lost last weekend, but that doesn't change our goal and that doesn't change our focus. Ultimately, it doesn't change our confidence at all."
The Barton-BYU winner will meet Long Beach State (27-3) in the semifinals Thursday. But Olmstead said the Cougars won't look past the Bulldogs (23-5), who have won nine straight matches and swept Limestone and Mount Olive in their conference tournament semifinal and final.
"We are preparing all of our energy and focus on that match," Olmstead said. "We are in it. Statistically, they are the kind of team that is going to put good pressure from the service line and they've got a few good pin hitters that can play with [BYU's] guys, that's for sure. And they've got a nice setter. It is a good all-around team."
BYU has battled injuries all season, including a groin pull that sidelined Patch for 11 matches.
"Credit to the guys," Olmstead said. "They have pushed through a lot of things that people don't know. Nor does that matter. We have put together a really good season, so I feel like we are in a good spot, and hopefully we can stay that way."
If nothing else, it's a familiar spot. The Cougars just want to change the ending.
NCAA Men's Volleyball Championships
At St. John Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Tuesday's play-in matches
• No. 3 BYU (24-4) vs. No. 6 Barton College (23-5), 4 p.m. MDT
• No. 4 Hawaii (26-5) vs. No. 5 Penn State (21-10), 6 p.m. MDT
Thursday's semifinal matches
• BYU-Barton winner vs. No. 2 Long Beach State (27-3), 4 p.m. MDT
• Hawaii-Penn State winner vs. No. 1 Ohio State (30-2), 6 p.m. MDT
Saturday's championship match
• 5 p.m. MDT (ESPNU)