Provo • As everyone around town and campus knows, BYU’s football team is suffering through its worst season in decades. The women’s soccer team also is experiencing a rare down year by its standards.
Thank goodness this fall for volleyball, arguably BYU’s best overall sport. The Cougars are coached by a pair of siblings from Santa Barbara, Calif. — Shawn Olmstead heads up the men’s program that has played for the last two NCAA national championships and Heather Olmstead leads the women’s program that has advanced to the Sweet 16 five straight seasons. BYU’s volleyball programs are carrying the banner in 2017.
The Cougar women are ranked No. 7 in the country and have a sparkling record of 17-1, their only loss a five-set thriller to Baylor. Heather Olmstead, in her third season as coach after assisting her brother from 2011 to 2014 before he moved to the men’s team, said the Cougars are getting better, a scary thought for West Coast Conference teams that have watched BYU win the last three WCC titles.
“I like how mindful our kids are being and that they have decided they want to pay attention to the details and that that matters,” she said. “I think our serving is continuing to get better, and we have been on the road, and been able to serve tough, and that helps our game a lot, too.”
COUGARS MIDSEASON UPDATE
• Cougars are 17-1 overall, 6-0 in the West Coast Conference and ranked No. 7 in the country.
• BYU ranks No. 2 nationally in W-L percentage, No. 9 in total team blocks, No. 11 in blocks per set and No. 19 in the RPI.
• BYU hosts Portland (13-5) on Thursday and Gonzaga (11-7) on Saturday.
That was never more apparent than last Thursday, when the Cougars overcame a 2-0 deficit and rallied past upset-minded Saint Mary’s at McKeon Pavilion. BYU then crushed Pacific to improve to 6-0 in the WCC.
“We learned that we can be resilient and we can still win when things aren’t going great or perfect,” Olmstead said. “I liked the way that we responded in the third, fourth and fifth sets. We hung in there. … So just the resiliency and the fight and the never give up [attitude] is there. It was a good lesson for us to learn, that we can still win when we are not playing our best.”
The Cougars have won 46 straight WCC games at home and will put that streak on the line this weekend when two of the better teams in the league visit Smith Fieldhouse. BYU hosts Portland (13-5, 4-2) at 7 p.m. Thursday then Gonzaga (11-7, 6-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday. Saturday’s match will be for the league lead if the Cougars defeat the Pilots and the Bulldogs beat San Diego on Thursday.
“No one is going to give it to us, so we have to pay attention to detail and show up ready to play both days,” Olmstead said.
The level of competition traditionally drops a bit when BYU enters league play, but Olmstead said the WCC is good this year, as the difficult time with SMC showed last week. Competition for playing time is fierce in practice and helps the team improve, star junior Veronica “Roni” Jones-Perry said.
“I think having that tough competition is making us better and we are always pushing each other to get better,” said Jones-Perry, a Copper Hills High product. “Everyone is always champing at the bit to get out on the court.”
The two-time WCC Player of the Week is joined by fellow juniors Lacy and Lyndie Haddock and sophomores McKenna Miller and Mary Lake in giving the Cougars a balanced attack. Seniors Cosy Burnettt, Maddie Graham and Alohi Robins-Hardy provide strong leadership.