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
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
"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
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 Penn 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
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.
All season, BYU volleyball fans have been showing up in
astounding numbers. The 14,156 who attended the Feb. 19 home win
over Hawaii set a single-match college mark. They also may have
saved the program. In April, BYU administrators announced that
two men's sports will be dropped after the 1999-2000 school
year. One is gymnastics, the other wrestling. "It might have
been us," says McGown, even though BYU didn't consider cutting
men's volleyball. "We're lucky the cuts weren't made back when
we were useless and unproductive."
Warning: wastrel tale ahead.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Millar (above) went to Provo on faith. "If he weren't Mormon," says McGown, "no way he would've come."