BYU women’s volleyball loses to Purdue in five sets, fails to advance in NCAA Tournament

The Cougars played only their second five-set match in the entire season.

(BYU Athletics) The Cougars' run in the NCAA volleyball tournament has come to an end after suffering a loss to Purdue on Thursday morning.

Kenzie Koerber had tears in her eyes and found it difficult to speak without starting to cry. The BYU graduate opposite hitter, who transferred to the women’s volleyball program from the University of Utah and has thrived with the Cougars, had just seen her season end by way of a five-set Sweet 16 match to Purdue.

“Obviously I didn’t want this to be my last game of my college career,” Koeber said with her coach Heather Olmstead and graduate teammate Kennedy Eschenberg by her side. “It really stings. It’s really tough.”

Koerber did all she could to get the Cougars a win, but they ended up falling 3-2 (25-12, 16-25, 21-25, 25-13, 18-16) to a Boilermakers team that came back from two sets down to Dayton in the previous round. She ended the match with a line of 16 kills, 12 digs, five blocks and two service aces.

When Olmstead was asked what impact Koerber had on the BYU program in her one season there, she was unable to shake the emotion she was feeling in the moment. Olmstead kindly asked her to smile before showering her with praise. Koeber laughed softly and allowed herself to smile.

“She’s brought a lot,” Olmstead said. “Just a lot of joy, a lot of gratitude. To see her be so grateful to be a part of this program and a part of the school, I think it makes us all appreciate what we have a little bit more.”

The Cougars played only one five-set game all season leading up to Thursday morning’s Sweet 16 matchup against Purdue. That’s how dominant they have been.

The Cougars won that game back in September. But losing against Purdue in five sets wasn’t indicative of BYU’s lack of experience this season in those types of games, Olmstead said.

“We were up 14-10, we had a chance to win the match,” Olmstead said. “We’re just all about executing the best we can and playing the best we can. We couldn’t finish it off when it mattered, when we needed to.”

The Cougars and Boilermakers played a tight fifth set. BYU led 14-10 only for Purdue to score four straight points.

Koerber and Caitlyn Newton exchanged kills, and BYU trailed 16-15 after an attacking error by Heather Gneiting. Koerber’s kill tied the game at 16, but Newton answered to give Purdue the one-point lead again.

A block by Purdue ended the game at 18-16, and gave the Boilermakers the match.

BYU didn’t look like it had fully woken up for the 9 a.m. local start time, and struggled mightily in the first game, which Purdue dominated in almost every way. BYU won two consecutive sets afterward, but Purdue tied it with a return to form. The Boilermakers gutted out the fifth set to win the match.

Purdue got the better of BYU in the first set by blocking kill attempts and taking advantage of the Cougars hitting negative-.179. The Boilermakers converted on nearly 40% of their kill attempts.

BYU’s second set was the polar opposite of the first.

The Cougars started the second set by giving up the first three points, but stormed back to take a 10-8 lead behind three consecutive kills from Taylor Ballard-Nixon. The run was extended to 10 straight points, highlighted by Koerber’s 100th career service ace.

BYU took an early lead in the third set, but it was a back-and-forth affair throughout. The Cougars took it by attacking at a .406 clip, while Purdue’s efficiency was just .172.

But in the fourth, the Boilermakers started with six straight points. BYU was unable to close the gap as Purdue stayed in control.

Overall, Olmstead said the team had one of its worst offensive games of the season. BYU’s attack percentage was .151, and it had 28 attack errors compared to its 51 kills.