Provo • BYU never gets tired of messing with Texas — especially when a chance to advance in the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament is at stake.
Led by tournament-MVP Roni Jones-Perry’s 25 kills on 49 swings and backed by a boisterous standing-room-only crowd of 5,472 at Smith Fieldhouse, the No. 4 Cougars swept the No. 5 Longhorns 3-0 in a regional final Saturday night.
BYU (31-1) moves on to the Final Four in Minneapolis next week for the first time since 2014 and will play the winner of the late Stanford-Penn State match. The Cougars dumped Texas 3-1 in the national semifinals that year before losing 3-0 to Penn State in the national championship game.
“It is awesome,” said senior setter Lyndie Haddock-Eppich, who was named to the all-tournament team along with hitter Heather Gneiting and libero Mary Lake. “You can tell by the emotion of all of us out there. It is just so special that we get to keep moving forward. None of us except Danelle [Stetler], a fifth-year, have been to the Final Four, so it is just amazing that we made this accomplishment so far.”
Olmstead’s brother, Shawn, was BYU’s coach in 2014, and he famously grew a mustache that year that stood as the team’s good luck charm. What will little sister do?
“Well, we will think about it,” she said. “Maybe we will have something on Monday. Brainstorm, everyone.”
The Cougars have already shown they do well playing together. They overcame Texas’ 161/2 team blocks and were simply the better team down the stretch, breaking away from tight sets all three times.
“I think that says we are a fighting team and we are resilient,” said Jones-Perry. “And you probably hear it from us a lot, but we do a good job staying in the present and focusing on what we want to do on the next touch. When you are doing that, the score doesn’t matter and you play your best.”
Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said there “were just little plays” that spelled the difference between winning and losing for the Longhorns (23-5), who led 17-13 in the first set and 20-18 in the third set before losing both.
Olmstead begged to differ, saying there “are no little things” and “everything is a big deal” to this team.
“So, every touch, every time we are talking and looking at each other in the eye. Every time they have a chance to make a big play, it is a big deal,” she said. “So for us, yeah, we got eight blocks. But it didn’t matter. We sided out at 63 percent, and that was good enough to win the match tonight.”
The Cougars hit .241 and Texas hit .222 in the matchup of the two most efficient hitting teams in the country.
Lake came up with 17 digs, Gneiting added nine kills after a slow start and Madelyn Robinson chipped in seven kills.
“I think our block worked really hard tonight and put us into really good positions to have good defensive plays,” Lake said. “Our block never gets enough credit, I think. And we had some really good serves. Lyndie never gets enough credit for how well she spreads out the offense and keeps us on our toes. Those are little things that go untalked about.”
One of those serves was delivered by Kiani Moea’i, an ace that tied the third set at 20 apiece. Lacy Haddock came up with a huge dump kill to make it 23-21, Jones-Perry recorded her 25th kill and moments later the Cougars started a massive celebration when Texas committed a net violation on the final point.
“I thought Roni was fantastic — 25 kills on 49 swings, it just doesn’t get better than that,” Olmstead said. “And Mary was back there just defending as much as she could and patrolling that back line. Everyone did a good job on our team. It was a fantastic effort and we are just proud of our team.”
• Fourth-seeded BYU sweeps fifth-seeded Texas to advance to the NCAA women’s volleyball Final Four for the time since 2014.
• Tournament MVP Roni Jones-Perry finishes with 25 kills on 49 swings and the Cougars hit .241 against the Big 12 champions.
• BYU’s Heather Gneiting, Mary Lake and Lyndie Hladdock-Eppich make the all-tournament team.