It's a story burnished with repetition, not so much remembered as incanted, like a prayer. "I was a wastrel," Carl McGown begins, "a useless, unproductive young man." He was also a surfer, a cardsharper, a volleyball player and a poor student. During his second year at Long Beach City College he bolted for a few days of surfing. "A few days became a few weeks," McGown recalls. "When I got back I had 18 units of F and a letter that said, You're out of here."
The wastrel joined the Army, found what he calls a "semblance of motivation" and returned to college, eventually going on to graduate school and earning a Ph.D. in something called human performance. His doctoral thesis was titled The Effect of Motor Set and Sensory Set on Reaction Time and Muscle Electrical Activity. "I'm the only one who read it," says McGown, now 61. "Well, maybe a professor read it. Once. The first time is always the sweetest."
McGown knows all about firsts. At UCLA's Pauley Pavilion last Saturday, Brigham Young's first and only men's volleyball coach guided his first-ranked Cougars to the school's first national championship in the sport. Playing in its first NCAA final, BYU earned a 15-9, 15-7, 15-10 victory over second-seeded Long Beach State, the first and only team to defeat the Cougars this season. It was only the second time the title had been won by a school outside California—a considerable accomplishment for a program that played its first game in 1990.
McGown's maiden team included two Canadians and two Norwegians, all of whom preferred partying to practicing. Those Cougars went 5-22. "The next season both Canadians dropped out, and both Norwegians got kicked out," McGown says. The remaining Cougars went 2-27.
"Recruiting was impossible," recalls McGown, who prospected mostly in volleyball-rich Southern California. "Our team was terrible, it snows in Provo, and we're a church school with no full rides and lots of rules: You can't drink, you can't smoke, you can't get in bed with girls." In '93 not a single prospect signed.
Slowly the Cougars clawed their way to respectability. "Still no player came to Provo to play for Carl McGown," says Carl McGown. "Players came because they didn't know any better." Among the current clueless are a couple of All-Americas from Puerto Rico: outside hitter Ossie Antonetti and setter Hector Lebron. Antonetti was recruited by former Perm State coach Tom Peterson and followed Peterson to Provo when he became a Cougars assistant. Lebron was a friend of Antonetti's. "I didn't know Hector existed until after he enrolled," says McGown. Ryan Millar, a 6'8" middle blocker from California whose hitting percentage (.498) and blocking average (2.14 per game) led the nation this season, arrived on faith. "If he weren't Mormon," says McGown, "no way he would've come."
Millar and Antonetti didn't even show at the last practice before Thursday's semifinal match against Penn State. McGown blamed "intestinal distress." In the match, the pair showed intestinal fortitude, combining for 44 kills and rallying the Cougars from an opening-game defeat to win the next three.
The sole blot on BYU's '99 escutcheon was a five-game home loss to Long Beach State. That three-hour marathon was like a soap opera in which there is a crisis every 28 seconds. Most of the 49ers' heroics were provided by 6'3" David McKienzie, a hard-hammering outside hitter. His 58 kills established an NCAA single-match record.
Last Thursday, McKienzie was Long Beach State's most cold-blooded killer (37 in 80 attempts) in its five-game semifinal win over IPFW, which is not an interplanetary wrestling federation but Indiana-Purdue of Fort Wayne. By opening up the seam between the outside and middle blockers, McKienzie marked the Mastodons for extinction.
In the final BYU's seamless defense stuffed McKienzie so often that he resembled a Thanksgiving turkey. On offense Antonetti killed softly with dinks. When he shifted gears and slammed the ball through the 49ers' outstretched hands, the Cougar-friendly crowd of 8,026 roared approvingly.