A year after making it to the Final Four, the BYU women’s volleyball is returning to the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars earned a No. 14 seed and will host the first two rounds of the tournament in the Smith Fieldhouse starting Friday.

It is BYU’s eighth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, dating back to 2012. The Cougars have been one of the 16 seeded teams in six of the last eight tournaments.

“It takes a lot of work each year,” senior libero Mary Lake said. “Being able to play in the NCAA Tournament is never handed to any team. To be able to come back with my team and have the chance to play again is awesome.”

The Cougars will play New Mexico State (27-3) at 7 p.m. after a match between Utah and Illinois in Provo’s other first-round matchup at 4 p.m.

The winners will play a second-round contest on Saturday at 7 p.m.

“We're excited to host this weekend and play again in the Smith Fieldhouse against New Mexico State, as well as host Utah and Illinois,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. “It's going to be a great weekend of volleyball.”

BYU VS. NEW MEXICO STATE


Where • Smith Fieldhouse, Provo
When • Friday, 7 p.m.

BYU finished the regular season with a 25-4 record and the conference portion 16-2 — giving up losses only to San Diego. The Toreros, the only other West Coast Conference team to reach the postseason, will face Washington State in the first round.

Senior outside hitter McKenna Miller leads the Cougars, averaging 3.59 kills per set. Lake is averaging 3.61 digs per set while freshman setter Whitney Bower has 9.58 assists per set.

Should BYU advance to the second round, the Cougars will either face a well-known opponent in Utah or the lesser-known Illinois.

The Cougars are 73-28 in the series against the Utes, winning nine of the last 10 matches. Earlier this season, BYU beat Utah 3-1 (25-22, 25-21, 12-25, 25-18).

The last time the Cougars went up against Illinois was in 2011, when BYU hosted the Fighting Illini in the BYU Nike Invitational. Illinois went on to sweep the Cougars in three sets.

Teams winning two matches this weekend will move on to regional play Dec. 13-14.

“To be able to play in the Smith Fieldhouse again, it’s always magical and I’m excited that I have one more chance to do that,” Lake said.