BYU volleyball team sweeps Utah, advances to Sweet 16

BYU libero Mary Lake digs a ball in the 2nd set against Utah. The BYU Women's Volleyball team defeated Utah 3-0 in the 2nd Round of the NCAA Championships in the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Utah. December 1, 2018 Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

Provo • Roni Jones-Perry skying. Lyndie Haddock-Eppich setting. Mary Lake digging. Madelyn Robinson diving. When stars play like stars, games like Saturday night happen.

The BYU Cougars advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA volleyball tournament with a sweep of the Utah Utes behind 5,183 fans. The scores were 25-16, 25-21, 25-18.

“I’m just proud of them that they get to be one of 16 teams that gets to keep practicing on Monday,” Cougars coach Heather Olmstead said. “It’s a really special feeling to know we get to get in the gym and keep getting better this next week.”

The Cougars will play Florida in the next round of the tournament.

Although the Cougars started the match on the slow end, even trailing at various points in the first set, they controlled both sides of the ball for the remainder. BYU attacked more efficiently and played more consistent defense than the Utes, whose season came to an end Saturday.

Jones-Perry proved why she was named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year. The senior outside hitter led all scorers with 20 kills with a hitting percentage of .471. Haddock-Eppich tallied 45 assists.

“I thought Roni was phenomenal tonight,” Olmstead said. “She knew that they were going after her and she just didn’t care. She was fearless.”

Utah took an 8-5 lead when a spike clipped the fingers of two BYU blockers and went out of bounds. It was back and forth for a while before BYU scored seven straight points, forcing two Ute timeouts in the process.

That run seemed to spark momentum for BYU, which trailed only twice for the remainder of the match.

“I think just us being able to stay in the present and keep focusing on one point at a time helps us be able to go on runs like that,” Jones-Perry said.

Utes coach Beth Launiere said in the last six or seven matches, one thing the Utes have been doing well is not giving up big runs. That changed against BYU at the worst time.

“It might’ve affected us,” Launiere said.

Dani Drews led the way for the Utes with 13 kills. Bailey Choy had 24 assists. But defense told the story for the Utes, who had only 28 digs to BYU’s 45.

“I think the biggest thing was we just couldn’t make stops,” Launiere said.

The Cougars hit a sizzling .410, while Utah hit just .202. In the first set, BYU converted almost 50 percent of its attacks, and Jones-Perry hit almost .800.

Even Heather Gneiting enjoyed a more-efficient-than-normal hitting night, going 12 of 16 with only one error.

“Lucky for us tonight, we had hot hitters on every pin [and] in the middle as well,” Haddock-Eppich said. “I think that’s what made us so efficient.”

Saturday’s match marked the first time the two schools, less than 40 miles away from each other, ever faced off in the NCAA Tournament.

The Cougars advanced to the Round of 32 by sweeping Stony Brook on Friday, while Utah also made swift work of Denver in the earlier match.