Provo • This women's volleyball season has been a showcase of BYU coach Shawn Olmstead's ability to recruit as much as his talent to prepare and guide his team.
Olmstead, hired in 2011 to rebuild a once-powerful program that had fallen to 43-42 the previous three seasons, created the base of what has become the 12th seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars went 21-9 but just missed the postseason.
The talent was in place for a return to the NCAA Tournament. The addition of three freshmen played a large role in the Cougars' return to the Round of 16 for the first time since 2007.
BYU (28-3) plays in Omaha, Neb., for a match against No. 5 seed Oregon (27-4) Friday at 3 p.m. MT in the CenturyLink Center. Nebraska (25-6), the fourth seed, and 14th-seed Washington (25-6) meet immediately after. Both region semifinal matches will be on ESPN3.
"I thought we were bringing in some kids who, in my mind, would push the kids here," Olmstead said. "Then all of a sudden they're playing. It's nice to have the subs we have."
Olmstead brought in 6-foot-2 outside hitter Alexa Gray from Centennial High School in Calgary, Alberta. She finished second on the team in kills and was named the West Coast Conference's Freshman of the Year.
Kimberly Dahl, a 6-foot outside from Pleasant Grove, added 190 kills, while Ciara Parker, a libero from Snow Canyon High, led BYU in digs.
"We do have a bunch of good parts, and we have good depth," Olmstead said. "They understand their roles, and they accept it. That's what you have to have on great teams."
Of course, BYU also has senior leadership in setter Heather Hannemann, who understands the history of BYU women's volleyball.
"We make goals at the beginning of the season, and this was definitely one of them," said Hannemann about moving on in the NCAA Tournament. "But we're not satisfied yet. Our coach always says, 'Ride it as far as you can.' We're going to ride it as far as we can. I think we can go as far as we want."
BYU's NCAA Tournament run
• Alexa Gray, one of three freshmen to contribute to BYU's NCAA Tournament run, is the WCC Freshman of the Year.
• No. 12 seed BYU (28-3) and No. 5 seed Oregon (27-4) can be seen at 3 p.m. MT on ESPN3.