Provo • BYU women’s volleyball star Roni Jones-Perry learned the Cougars are ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time since 1986 when her husband texted her the news on Monday.
The No. 24-ranked Utah Utes are surely aware of that, too.
The BYU-Utah women’s volleyball rivalry never needs any extra spice, but it will have some Thursday night in the Smith Fieldhouse for good measure thanks to the Cougars’ ascension to the top spot in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division I poll.
“Rivalries add this extra emotional side to volleyball that isn’t always there. At the same time, it is still volleyball. They are a good team. We are a good team. It is just going to be really high-energy game,” Jones-Perry said.
BYU coach Heather Olmstead generally downplays the rankings, but she did allow for some moments of celebration when the Cougars got the news Monday.
“I am excited for them to be recognized for their hard work and their success,” Olmstead said. “They are beating quality opponents and I think it is good for them to gain confidence knowing they are doing good things. I am really happy for the program and the university to get some attention.”
As for Todd Perry, “He was way more excited about it than I was,” Roni Jones-Perry said. “I was really happy he was so pumped about it.”
BYU owns a commanding 70-30 lead over Utah in the all-time series, but the last few matches have been razor-close. BYU won in five sets last year in Salt Lake City; Utah won in five sets two years ago in Provo.
“Yeah, we are excited to host Utah and have a top 25 matchup again at our place,” Olmstead said. “We know they are going to be well-prepared and come into Smith Fieldhouse ready to play. It is going to be a grind and it is going to be a tough match and I think both teams are going to play really well. It is going to be a great battle.”
The Cougars rose to No. 1 with a victory over then-No. 1 Stanford two weeks ago and followed it by taking the Marquette Invitational. The Cougars swept No. 10 USC and previously undefeated Syracuse and then knocked off No. 25 Marquette in four sets.
Utah (7-2) is having another solid season after having been picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12. The Utes went 2-1 at last weekend’s Villanova Invitational, debating Temple and High Point before falling to the home team.
“We have been on the map for volleyball, but I like that [the No. 1 ranking] has people talking about BYU volleyball,” Olmstead said. “I think maybe the conversations get a little more serious with some recruits. We are more concerned about where we finish in December than where we are in September, but we are excited that we are off to a great start.”
NO. 24 UTAH AT NO. 1 BYU
At Smith Fieldhouse, Provo
When • Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV • BYUtv