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Earnest makes big splash in debut for BYU men’s volleyball team

March 21, 2019

In the history of BYU men’s volleyball, very few players have had a debut quite like Brody Earnest.

Last weekend, Earnest – the Cougars third-string setter – was forced into action against No. 4 UCLA and No. 6 Pepperdine due to injuries to Wil Stanley and Cyrus Fa’alogo. The Cougars staged a remarkable comeback to beat UCLA 3-2 and topped Pepperdine 3-1 with Earnest directing the offense like he was born to do it.

Not bad for a returned missionary freshman who just joined the team in late December and didn’t play club volleyball during his junior and senior seasons in high school.

“I was eating it up,” Earnest said. “I was loving it. When you have Gabi (Garcia Fernandez), Davide (Gardini), Linc (Andrew Lincoln), Filipe (de Brito Ferreira) and Miki (Jauhiainen) hitting off of your sets, they’re going to make them look good no matter where they are. They came through really well and it was an incredible week. I don’t think I’ve come down yet.”

To understand Earnest, you need to know where he came from.

Earnest was a good volleyball player at Aliso Niguel High School in California but at the end of his junior year made a decision that would complicate his goal of playing in college: He opted not to play club ball. A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Earnest wanted to honor the Sabbath Day and not play on Sundays, which meant he wouldn’t be seen by college coaches who regularly scout club tournaments. There would be questions about whether he could play or train at the necessary level.

“I didn’t want to play on Sundays anymore so I stopped playing club,” Earnest said. “But it all worked out, right?”

Eventually, yes. But his journey from high school to playing against UCLA was a long one. He attended a BYU volleyball camp the summer after his senior year and became acquainted with the Cougar coaching staff, which at the time was led by Chris McGown.

After serving a mission to the Philippines, Earnest returned to Provo to find a new coaching staff in place and ended up playing for the club team at Utah Valley University.

“Things didn’t work out but that’s OK,” he said. “I went to UVU to play for fun. Then I got a call in December to come and play at BYU.”

Leo Durkin was a three-year starter at setter for the Cougars and graduated last May. Stanley, a junior, had been groomed to take his place. Fa’alogo, also a junior, was an outside hitter for BYU and the backup setter. Shawn Olmstead said there were a couple of non-LDS setter recruits who chose to go elsewhere and Lincoln, originally recruited as a setter, moved to outside hitter and had knee surgery before Christmas.

That’s when Olmstead reached out to Earnest about joining the team.

“Brody is a great student so credit to him,” Olmstead said. “He gets really good grades so that was an easy transition. He was a great fit for the honor code here at BYU. We made the decision then to bring Brody along so we could have the option of putting Cy outside and having a backup setter.

“We happened to have a roster spot which is unique because of Title IX. There have been very few years we’ve had a roster spot at that time.”

Stanley started the first 13 matches of the season and went down with a serious ankle injury at Stanford on March 2. Fa’alogo stepped in but severe cramping in his calves took him out at the start of the second set against UCLA last week.

And that’s how Earnest found himself on the court against the No. 4 team in the country with the Cougars already down a set.

Earnest traveled with the team on their first road trip and got into one set in a 3-0 win against Saint Francis (Pa.). But he hadn’t played since that match.

“The nerves came out actually against UC Irvine (the previous week) because I warmed up and thought I was going to get in and ended up not playing,” Earnest said. “My stomach was churning and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m going to get in.’

“This time when my name was called the nerves were gone. I was finally going to go in and try to make it happen.”

The Cougars lost Set 2 to UCLA and trailed 13-7 in Set 3 before making one of the greatest recoveries in school history to take down the Bruins in a five-set thriller. Two nights later, Earnest made the first start of his career and the Cougars topped Pepperdine in four sets.

“Brody has been here but in reality he hadn’t been getting nearly the amount of reps that Cy and Wil were getting,” Olmstead said. “I’d say in the past few weeks we were beginning to see some tempo and some rhythm from him. The hitters were getting the ball in good rotations. Our hand was a little forced (against UCLA) but we started to see and feel lot more comfortable with Brody. He’s really confident and it’s a good thing. There’s still a lot of work to do, no doubt. But definitely in that situation and that setting, he did a remarkable job.”

Stanley is officially out for the season, so Earnest and Fa’alogo will compete for time at the setter spot the remainder of the schedule.

“I keep telling Brody ‘Look, you’ve got these great options around you, just let them do the work,’” Olmstead said. “I joke with him that it’s an easy job when you have those big boys out there. I know it’s harder than that but I’m just trying to give him the confidence and security. Great setters let the other guys do the rest. The best of the best have style and pizzazz, but in the end they still get their hitters in rhythm and timing and let the hitters do the work.”

Earnest will get three opportunities to improve his game this week with the Cougars hosting the BYU Invitational at the Smith Fieldhouse against Princeton, McKendree and No. 2 Hawaii.

“I definitely have a different outlook,” Earnest said. “I just joined the team at the end of December. I wasn’t really expecting this whole thing to happen this year, but now that it’s happened I’m going to come to practice, grind every day, work with the boys and go from there.”