Provo • A lot of college volleyball fans in the state saw this collision coming when Utah got hot at the end of the season and BYU held on to its No. 1 ranking for more than two months.
The Cougars and Utes will tangle Saturday night (7 p.m., BYUtv) at Smith Fieldhouse in an NCAA tournament Round of 32 match for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.
The schools separated by 36 miles both took care of business in Friday’s first-round matches, as the No. 4-seeded Cougars swept overmatched Stony Brook and the Utes dumped pesky Denver in front of 3,675 roaring fans.
“We are super excited to advance in the tournament,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. “It is a good opportunity for us to play another match tomorrow at home. Utah is a great opponent. We are just excited to keep advancing and keep this journey going.”
BYU (28-1) suffered its first loss of the season 10 days ago at Loyola Marymount, and didn’t start Friday’s match playing like one of the best teams in the country. But it sure finished like one.
The Cougars revved up after Stony Brook led midway through the first set and cruised from there. The scores were 25-20, 25-13 and 25-12.
“Credit to this atmosphere,” said Stony Brook coach Kristin Belzung. “You guys have a really good thing going here.”
West Coast Conference Roni Jones-Perry led the way with 17 kills and BYU’s big block dominated the American East Conference champions.
“We had a really good week of practice, and we got that loss out of our system a while ago,” Jones-Perry said.
The Cougars looked a bit shaky in the first set, failing behind 11-8 and then 13-10. But their block came up big down the stretch, and a 7-1 run fueled by Jones-Perry clinched it. Jones-Perry had seven kills in the first set alone.
BYU never trailed in the second set, as the Seawolves grew wary of BYU’s big block and settled for non-attacking dumps and the like. The Cougars hit just .185 after hitting .226 in the first set, but came up with eight blocks.
The Seawolves hit a disastrous -.250 in the second set.
The Cougars swept the Utes easily 3-0 on Sept. 13, but had its second-best hitter, McKenna Miller, in that match. Miller sustained an ACL injury on Nov. 8 and is out for the season.
“We are both probably different teams than when we played a few months ago, so it will be exciting to match up tomorrow. We are going to get out there and compete and see what happens,” Olmstead said.
Utah 3, Denver 0 • Dani Drews posted 18 kills and 12 digs to lead Utah past Denver 3-0 on Friday afternoon in an NCAA women’s volleyball tournament first-round match at BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse.
The scores were 25-23, 25-18 and 27-25.
“We tried to stop her,” Denver coach Tom Hogan said of Drews, who had eight kills in the third set alone. “I don’t think you can really stop someone like her, though.”
The Utes improved to 19-13 and will play the winner of the late BYU-Stony Brook match on Saturday night in a second-round match at Smith Fieldhouse.
Megan Yett added 11 kills and Kenzie Koerber had 10 for the Utes, who were pushed to five sets by Denver the first week of the season in Salt Lake City.
“They have a lot of physical talent and they were tough to stop,” Hogan said.
Denver (27-3), the Summit League champion, led 16-13 in the first set, but the Utes won seven of the next nine points to regain control.
Utah fell behind 3-0 in the second set before Bailey Choy’s setting righted the Utes. Choy finished with 33 set assists and 12 digs.
“Bailey definitely makes me look better than I am,” said Drews, whose brothers, Jackson and Cody, played in Utah’s 10-3 loss to Washington in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night.
The Pioneers didn’t go easily. They rallied from an 18-12 deficit in the third set and took a 22-21 lead. But Utah, which tied for sixth in the Pac-12, got some key kills from Drews and advanced to the second round.
“The difference in the match was serving and passing,” said Utah coach Beth Launiere. “That’s shocking, I know.”