Utah denies deja vu by sweeping past BYU and into the NCAA volleyball tourney’s Sweet 16

(Steve C. Wilson / University of Utah file photo) Dani Drews, an All-Pac-12 player, had 17 kills on .457 hitting to lead Utah to a sweep of BYU on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, and into the Sweet 16.

Provo • It should have been deja vu when the BYU and Utah volleyball teams met for a second-round match on the Smith Fieldhouse court Saturday. The Cougars had a higher seed and home-court advantage, just like last season, when those exact circumstances played out.

But the Utes weren’t about to relive that nightmare.

Utah charged at the Cougars from its opening serve, an ace, and never took its foot off the gas as the unseeded Utes shocked No. 14 BYU with a 25-15, 25-15, 25-15 victory. The win in front of an announced crowd of 3,250 was sweet revenge for Utah, which was swept by BYU in its final match last season.

“In a way it was cool to get like a type of do-over to kind of change last year because we weren’t satisfied with how we finished,” junior Dani Drews said. “Tonight we proved to ourselves we are better than we were last year and we’ve grown so much and we’re just excited to keep moving forward.”

The victory sends Utah into the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in program history and the second time in three years. The Utes, ranked No. 17 nationally, will play defending champion Stanford on Friday or Saturday in Palo Alto, California. The No. 3-seeded Cardinal (26-4) defeated unseeded Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo in their second-round game Saturday.

Utah barely let the Cougars get a hit in edgewise during its dismantling of BYU.

The Utes (24-9) converted nearly half of their attacks into kills in the opening set while spreading the ball fairly evenly among Drews, freshman outside Zoe Weatherington, junior opposite Kenzie Koerber and senior Berkeley Oblad. Utah hit .394 for the match, paced by Drews’ 17 kills on .457 hitting. Koerber finished with 11 kills and Oblad had eight, while each put up five blocks.

BYU (26-5), conversely, finished with a .194 hitting percentage and five total blocks. Senior McKenna Miller, the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, tallied just seven kills for the night on .103 hitting. Junior teammate Kennedy Eschenberg also had seven kills, the team high, and four blocks. Senior libero Mary Lake, the WCC Libero of the Year, finished with 14 digs.

“It was kind of a mismatch from the start. We couldn’t get things going and it just seems like we couldn’t turn it around,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. “But the one thing the team did was fight the whole time.”

The kills were just the tinsel on the Utes’ impeccably decorated tree, however. The passing, which Utah coach Beth Launiere called “absolutely on point,” is what tied everything together. Setter Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres recorded 10 of the Utes’ 41 digs. She also added to the career assists record she earned in a five-set, first-round win over Illinois with 38 on the night.

The Utes will need similar accuracy to upend Stanford and reach the Elite eight for the first time in program history. Utah lost both its Pac-12 matches to Stanford, the conference champion, this season by scores of 3-2 and 3-1.

Oblad said this time could be different.

“Anyone can win on any given night,” Oblad said. “If we play like this, I have no doubt it will be a great competition.”


• Utah swept BYU to exact revenge for a loss to the Cougars in the second round of last year’s NCAA Tournament in Provo

• Utah, which finished a program-best third in the Pac-12, will next play conference champion Stanford in the Sweet 16. The Utes have never gotten beyond that round.

• BYU was off-kilter from the start and senior McKenna Miller, the West Coast Conference Player of the Year who missed last year’s match with a torn ACL, was held to seven kills and .103 hitting.