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Cougars sweep Boise State to set up NCAA second round with Utah

By Darnell Dickson - | Dec 3, 2021

BYU's Erin Livingston (10) and her teammates celebrate a point during an NCAA Tournament first round match with Boise State at the Smith Fieldhouse on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

Boise State, which surprised the Mountain West Conference by winning the league’s postseason tournament as a No. 6 seed, couldn’t get BYU off the service line and had no idea what to do with Erin Livingston.

The combination proved to be a pretty good formula for the win as the No. 11 seed Cougars dominated the Broncos in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a sweep (25-6, 25-19, 25-10) that was just as impressive as it looks.

“I think we did a good job firing on all cylinders in our offense,” said BYU setter Whitney Bower, who led her team to a .388 hitting percentage to go along with six digs and three block assists. “Everyone was able to put up great swings even on our out-of-system balls. Everyone was staying assertive and aggressive. Our in-system balls we were able to hammer down the line and cross court so it was awesome.”

BYU – which earned its 23rd sweep in 29 victories – fired off 10 service aces (three each from Kenzie Koerber and Aria McComber) and put big-time service pressure on Boise State all night long.

Livingston was spectacular – BYU coach Heather Olmstead called her “a beast” – and finished with 15 kills and just one error (.667). BYU dominated at the net, too, with 12.0 team blocks, seven from middle Kennedy Eschenberg.

The Broncos never got untracked offensively and hit just .042 (18 kills, 19 errors) with MWC Freshman of the Year Paige Bartsch struggling to just three kills on 17 swings (-.176).

So, pretty much plenty for the raucous crowd of 5,340 fans in the Fieldhouse to cheer about while still having time for a dinner and a movie on a Friday night after a match that lasted just over an hour.

“It’s pretty incredible to come here,” Eschenberg said. “In my six years it’s just a magical feeling to walk in and see all those fans of Cougar Nation supporting us. There’s no better place to play and I’m just grateful for everyone that came out and supported us.”

The Cougars (29-1) move on to Saturday’s second round to play rival Utah, which dispatched Utah Valley 3-1 in an earlier match.

More on that in a moment.

BYU was overpowering from the start. The Cougars scored six straight points including two aces from Koerber for a 17-4 advantage. BYU won the first set 25-6, hitting .571 (just one hitting error), throwing up four team blocks and holding the Broncos to -.192.

The Cougars sided out at 100 percent in the first set, a rare feat in college volleyball.

Set 2 was much closer as Boise State took an early 5-2 lead. Bower got to the service line and the Cougars scored eight straight points, including a pair of kills for Livingston and an ace by McComber, for an 8-5 advantage. BYU took a 17-12 lead when Gretchen Reinert took a ball off the ceiling and passed it to Livingston for a kill. At set point, Koerber made a diving save and Eschenberg got the bump kill for the 25-19 victory and a 2-0 lead in the match.

BYU hit a sizzling .579 in Set 3 and pulled away from the Broncos early. Three straight Livingston kills pushed the Cougars advantage to 21-9 and McComber’s third ace of the match got BYU to match point. A Boise State hitting error finished things off with a 25-10 victory and sweep.

Earlier in the day, Utah powered past Utah Valley to set up a second round rematch with the Cougars. Dani Drews (18 kills), Madi Robinson (13) and Amel Van Der Werff (10) led the Utes attack and the defense held Utah Valley to a .121 hitting percentage.

On September 16, BYU swept Utah (25-23, 25-23, 25-16) at the Smith Fieldhouse, In 2019, the Utes shocked the No. 14 seed Cougars in a sweep (25-15, 25-15, 25-15) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to advance to the Sweet 16.

Koerber transferred from Utah after three seasons to play for BYU this year.

“Early on in the year when we played them, I think that week was pretty emotional for me,” Koerber said. “But honestly right now I just feel like it’s the next team. I’m not even thinking about that being my former team. We have things we want to accomplish. We have games that we want to win and we have a run on the tournament we want to go on. If we keep playing like we did tonight, we can beat anyone so I think we’re just excited for the next game.”

BYU’s Erin Livingston takes a high swing during an NCAA Tournament first round match against Boise State in the Smith Fieldhouse on Friday, Dec. 3,2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

BYU women’s volleyball coach Heather Olmstead gives her team instruction during a time out in an NCAA Tournament first round match against Boise State in the Smith Fieldhouse on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

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