Provo • Led by legendary Florida coach Mary Wise, some of the most-accomplished and longest-tenured coaches of women’s volleyball in the country have assembled at Smith Fieldhouse this weekend for NCAA tournament Round of 16 matches.
But if BYU’s relatively new coach Heather Olmstead feels like a bit of an outsider among a group that also includes Texas coach Jerritt Elliott and Michigan coach Mark Rosen, she shouldn’t.
In her fourth year, Olmstead, 38, is well on her way to becoming one of the elite coaches in the sport. Having replaced her brother in 2015 when Shawn Olmstead became the men’s coach, Heather Olmstead has already surpassed 100 career wins and has guided the program to its seventh-straight Sweet 16 appearance.
She has a sparkling career record of 116-12 for a .906 winning percentage, which would rank her as the winningest Division I coach by percentage, active or retired, if she had the five and 10 seasons, respectively, required to qualify for the record lists.
Olmstead’s fourth-seeded Cougars (29-1) will host Wise’s Gators (26-6) on Friday at 4:30 p.m.
NCAA WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Smith Fieldhouse, Provo
Friday’s Round of 16 Matches
No. 5 Texas (22-4) vs. Michigan (24-9), 2 p.m.
No. 4 BYU (29-1) vs. Florida (26-6), 4:30 p.m.
Saturday’s Regional Finals Match
Friday’s winners, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)
Fifth-seeded Texas (22-4) will tangle with Michigan (24-9) on Friday at 2 p.m. The winners will meet Saturday at 6 p.m. for the right to advance to the Final Four in Minneapolis, Minn. The Cougars last reached the Final Four in 2014 before falling to Penn State in the championship match.
Wise, in her 28th year at Florida, has a .847 winning percentage and has the most career victories (905) among women Division I coaches in NCAA history. She is the only woman to have coached in a national volleyball championship match (2003 and 2017).
The Florida coach mentioned several times in Thursday’s news conference that the Gators consider themselves as underdogs against BYU. Olmstead and her players scoffed at that notion moments later, saying labels and such don’t matter.
“We just want to play our best volleyball and see Florida play their best volleyball,” said BYU libero Mary Lake.
No woman coach has ever won an NCAA Volleyball Division I national championship; Wise is obviously the leading candidate to accomplish the feat first, but Olmstead has a capable team this year, too, with the Cougars having been ranked No. 1 for 11 consecutive weeks this season.
BYU lost its second-best player, McKenna Miller, to an ACL injury four weeks ago, but proved last weekend with sweeps of Stony Brook and Utah that it has recovered nicely.
“We have been working all season to get to this point. It is excitement. The tournament brings a whole new vibe, right? It is win or go home. So everybody is in the same boat. Your record is 0-0. So all those streaks or whatever everyone talked about [mean nothing],” Olmstead said. “You just want to be 1-0 at the end of the night and go on to the next night.”
Texas’ Elliott is in his 18th year, won a national championship in 2012, and has a .819 winning percentage.
Michigan’s Rosen is in his 19th year and is coaching in his seventh Sweet 16; He has a .611 winning percentage in the very difficult Big Ten.
So Olmstead and the Cougars obviously have a difficult path ahead of them.
BYU is hosting an NCAA Regional for the first time since 1986. The Cougars are 15-0 at home this season and have won 22 straight matches at Smith Fieldhouse dating back to last season. They are 28-6 overall at home in NCAA tournament matches.
Getting to the Final Four “has always been our goal, every single year,” said BYU setter Lyndie Haddock-Eppich. “Right now, our focus is not on the outcome. We are just focused on one game, which is the game in front of us.”
HEATHER OLMSTEAD AS BYU’S HEAD COACH
2015 • 28-4
2016 • 29-4
2017 • 30-3
2018 • 29-1
Career record: 116-12 (90.6 winning percentage)