BYU women’s volleyball eager to get right back to work for fall season
BYU's Taylen Ballard-Nixon cuts away a piece of the net after winning the West Coast Conference regular season title, defeating Santa Clara in the Smith Fieldhouse on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.
BYU players (from left) Kate Grimmer, Talyn Ballard-Nixon and Kennedy Eschenberg celebrate a point in a match against Loyola Marymount at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021.
After falling in straight sets to top seed Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, BYU women’s volleyball coach Heather Olmstead took a moment with her players to acknowledge what a great season it had been.
But only a moment.
The 2021 fall season is actually only four months away.
“We talked about what the next four months look like,” Olmstead said. “A lot of people are talking about this group returning but all I want to talk about is how this team needs to get better. If we want a different result we’re going to have to work hard to get better during this four months.”
Seniors Kennedy Eschenberg (third team All-American) and outside hitter Taylen Ballard-Nixon (honorable mention All-American) have decided to take advantage of the NCAA granting additional eligibility because of the pandemic, so Olmstead could return her entire starting lineup from a team that posted a 17-2 record, won the West Coast Conference regular season title and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the eighth time in nine seasons.
“We’re adding a new freshman class, and that always changes the dynamics,” Olmstead said. “We can’t rest on our laurels. We’re always building and our goals are to win the WCC and a national championship. I’m excited to keep growing and getting better as a team. I want to have as much success as possible with this group.”
The heartbeat of the team is sophomore setter Whitney Bower, who earned WCC Player of the Year and Setter of the Year this spring.
“This season has been really exciting,” Bower said. “Playing Wisconsin shows us our strengths and our weaknesses. We’re going to build from that and grow. We will find areas where we need to get better, especially for next year.”
While the possibility is there for the entire roster to return, change is inevitable and already happening. On Thursday the Cougars announced the addition of opposite hitter Kenzie Koerber from the University of Utah and Santa Clara libero Gretchen Reinert. Koerber is a three-time All-American honoree who Olmstead coached in Japan in the summer of 2019 with the US Collegiate National Team. Reinert – daughter of former BYU men’s basketball assistant and Utah Valley head coach Jeff Reinert – will help stabilize passing and serve receive.
Olmstead is also bringing in a top five recruiting class, according to Prepvolleyball.com. That group is led by Elyse Stowell, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter from California rated the No. 9 player in the country.
“Elyse has been committed to us for quite a while now,” Olmstead said. “We know her family well. She played on a good club team in California, she plays sand volleyball and she really loves the game. She has a very heavy arm and she’s out on the pin ready to score. Her strength is scoring points. She’s a good jumper and has great energy. She loves BYU and we’re excited to have her coming in the fall.”
In addition to the outstanding freshman class, Olmstead will welcome the return of 6-4 All-American middle blocker Heather Gneiting, who will return from her church mission this spring.
The Cougar players will take a few weeks to rest and relax but will be spending time in open gym and with volleyball camps in July. The coaches will take some vacation time in May and will be back on the recruiting trail in June. Olmstead said she is putting together a girls and dads camp and is excited for the opportunity to spread the good word about BYU women’s volleyball.
“We weren’t picked to win the conference,” Olmstead said. “Nobody was really talking about us. We just kept getting better and better. They will hold a special place in my heart because of what they did, going 17-2 and making a great run in the NCAA Tournament. I saw a lot of growth, a lot of love, a lot of patience and a lot of hard work.”