Provo • For about 15 minutes on Thursday night at jam-packed Smith Fieldhouse, No. 24-ranked Utah played like it belonged on the volleyball court with freshly minted No. 1 BYU.
Then reality hit.
Propelled by their record crowd (for women’s volleyball) of 5,472, the Cougars woke up and dominated the rest of the way to survive their first test as the top-ranked team in the country. BYU swept Utah 3-0 to improve to 9-0 and has now defeated four ranked teams this season.
The scores were 25-20, 25-14 and 25-17.
“We are really proud of the product we keep putting on the floor, and we just want to keep getting better,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said.
• The No. 1-ranked Cougars hit .427 and rolled past rival Utah in front of a record crowd at Smith Fieldhouse
• Undefeated BYU has knocked off four nationally ranked teams in 2018 — No. 1 Stanford, No. 10 USC, No. 25 Marquette and No. 24 Utah
• Roni Jones-Perry had 13 kills for BYU, while Dani Drews had 11 for Utah
Utah coach Beth Launiere like the way her team started — Utah led 14-11 in the first set before BYU settled in and started playing like the best team in the country — but said the Cougars’ superiority caught up to her young team. The Utes had four freshmen on the court in the third set.
“We started out well, and we were executing at a pretty high level,” Launiere said. “But obviously we couldn’t sustain that against a very good team. The things I know we have to get better at certainly showed up tonight, and we will get better.”
BYU is now 71-30 all-time against the Utes, who dropped to 7-3. Utah played without all-Pac 12 preseason pick Berkeley Oblad, who will miss the remainder of the season with an elbow injury that will require surgery.
Roni Jones-Perry led the Cougars with 13 kills, and BYU hit a sparkling .427 percent. Kennedy Eschenberg added nine kills, McKenna Miller had eight and Heather Gneiting seven.
“They are good and they are a well-oiled machine,” Launiere said. “They’ve got a lot of good experience.”
Dani Barton Drews led Utah with 11 kills, but the Utes hit just .167 in falling for the second-straight time to BYU. Utah hit .188 in the first set, but its attack and service errors piled up as the match wore on.
“I am proud of the way we kept chipping away and got better each set,” Olmstead said. “I don’t know that it was our best blocking night, but it is nice that we can win in other ways if our block is not going to be there. It gives us some confidence knowing we can win in other ways.”
In the first set, Jones-Perry led a 4-0 run for BYU after Utah grabbed the early lead. The Utes battled back to get within a point, 21-20, on a kill by Lauren Sproule. But BYU ran off four straight points and the Utes were finished.
“Our serve and pass got better, and that kinda just switches the whole momentum of the game and lets us run our defense a little bit better, how we want to, and also run our offense,” Jones-Perry said.
BYU jumped to a quick 4-0 lead in the second set and never trailed. Utah tied it at 9-9 in the third set, but six straight BYU points ended the threat and massive crowd started enjoying the rivalry win.
“I just want to thank the community and the students and everyone for coming out for that match. It was exciting for both teams — a top 25 matchup — and hopefully we made a couple more fans if people keep coming back,” Olmstead said. “But that was cool to set a record for attendance for women’s volleyball.”
BYU will take its No. 1 ranking on the road Saturday at Weber State, while Utah will host Utah Valley.
“I think it was an excellent experience for our kids, obviously, except in terms of losing,” Launiere said. “My young players just have to go through these matches. We are going to get better. We have lots of nice talent on the floo,r, but we are just too young to handle something like that.”