BYU’s women’s volleyball team is not accustomed to losing any sets to rival Utah lately, but the Cougars responded well when that happened Thursday night.
The No. 12 Cougars answered No. 18 Utah's phenomenal third-set showing with a strong finish at the Huntsman Center, winning 25-22, 25-21, 12-25, 25-18.
BYU coach Heather Olmstead's approach after seemingly losing all of the momentum in the match worked wonderfully. “We just said, 'Forget that set. Let's back to work.' And they did that, from the very first point of the fourth set,” Olmstead said.
And the Utes (8-3) couldn't maintain their remarkable level of play. “I don't think we let up or anything,” coach Beth Launiere said. “Our team was determined to get this thing to five sets, but then all of a sudden … [BYU] started serving a little better in the fourth set, got us in trouble with their passing.”
Thanks partly to Utah's domination of the third set, the match statistics were practically even. The ultimate difference was BYU's ability to win key points in the first two sets.
In last season's two rivalry matches in Provo, including second-round competition in the NCAA Tournament, the Utes scored more than 18 points in only two of six total sets. Utah was far more competitive Thursday, with Dani Drews posting 21 kills. Kenzie Koerber added 14 kills and freshman Zoe Weatherington had 13.
“When we get a few more things figured out, I think we're going to be really good,” said Launiere, whose team has lost to No. 6 Pittsburgh in four sets, Cal Poly in five sets and BYU in four sets in its last three matches. The Utes will open Pac-12 play at home Wednesday vs. Colorado.
BYU (8-2) will visit No. 2 Stanford to conclude nonconference play Saturday, having lost only to Top 10 teams Marquette and Texas, each in four sets. The Cougars showed poise in big moments against Utah, with McKenna Miller (22 kills) repeatedly coming through.
BYU setter Whitney Bower “just kept problem-solving the whole match and kept looking for people to score,” Olmstead said. “And McKenna was an absolute beast.”
Miller was especially noticeable with aggressive swings at the end of long rallies, Launiere observed.
The Utes showed some toughness, though, after losing the first two sets. “I just talked to 'em about having some courage and just going for it,” Launiere said, “and that's what they did.”
Utah posted a .515 hitting percentage in the third set, in one of those sequences the Utes wish wouldn't have ended. They had a negative percentage in the fourth set, with nine kills and 10 attack errors.
“You get a lead, you play loose, you play free,” Launiere said of the difference between the third and fourth sets. “And all of a sudden, you go down, and it was a battle.”
Madelyn Robinson complemented Miller with 13 kills for the Cougars, who hit .227 for the match to Utah’s .234 mark.