Olmstead’s foray into transfer portal pays off for BYU women’s volleyball
Shortly after the BYU women’s volleyball team were swept out of the spring NCAA Tournament by No. 1 Wisconsin, Cougar coach Heather Olmstead and her coaching staff had a frank discussion about how to improve the roster for the fall season, which was only four months away.
The decision was made to build through the transfer portal, which came with considerable risk.
The results have been spectacular.
BYU, the No. 11 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, will host the first two rounds beginning Friday in the Smith Fieldhouse. The Cougars will play Boise State while Utah faces Utah Valley in the other opening match.
Taking the floor for BYU will be former Ute Kenzie Koerber, who transferred to Provo this summer and was named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year on Monday. Two other transfers – Gretchen Reinert (Santa Clara) and Aria McComber (Washington State) – are defensive specialists who have been critical in BYU’s pass receive and digging game.
“I felt like it actually was high risk, high reward,” Olmstead said. “I felt like if there was ever a time that I was going to take a risk it was going to be this year with the transfer portal, with COVID, with bringing Taylen (Ballard-Nixon) back and with bringing Kennedy (Eschenberg) back. Everything we did, there was a risk to it and we trusted in our team to be able to accept the decisions that we’ve made and to to lean into everybody on our team being a part of our our success.
“I think that’s also the way college athletics is going and if you don’t get with it, you’re going to get left behind as far as always looking to enhance your team. There’s going to be opportunities all over the country because of COVID. We just tried to do the best we could with what we had and we’re grateful for the kids that came back and that we were able to add.”
Koerber is averaging a team-best 3.53 kills per set and hitting a sizzling .366 from her opposite hitter position. She also went way out of her comfort zone leaving a school where she was a three-time All-American.
“Yeah, it obviously was a risk going from Utah to BYU,” Koerber said. “I knew there was gonna be a lot of backlash and kind of just a lot of baggage that came with that. I was deciding between playing another year, going pro or being done completely. I prayed a lot about it and talked with my family a lot and I felt like the best thing for me to do is come to BYU. It was hard getting to a new school and having to meet new girls. Luckily, I knew a lot of the girls already but it took some time to make friendships.
“Walking into the first practice during fall camp, it was very different than what I was used to. And it almost made me feel like a freshman again. But it didn’t take long to adapt because I have had the five years of experience but there were some new things that I think really did help me prepare for whatever is next after this.”
Junior middle blocker Heather Gneiting had a different perspective on the changes as a returning player but one that has just come back from a church mission this summer.
“I think we’ve always just had a mantra of we’re all going to be all in and we’re all gonna trust willingly, which can be hard,” Gneiting said. “They’ve all been a big blessing for our team. And to know that the girls coming in are just accepted and they’re being very authentic and putting so much into the team, taking that and just building off of it and creating our culture that’s been here, that is definitely a big benefit.”
Boise State went into the Mountain West Conference Tournament as the No. 6 seed but defeated San Jose State (3-0), Utah State (3-1) and UNLV (3-1).
Paige Bartsch, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker, was named MWC Freshman of the Year and 6-3 Jr. outside hitter Lauren Ohlinger is a two-time All-WCC first team selection.
This is the Broncos second appearance all-time in the NCAA Tournament, with the first coming in 2016. BYU is an old hand at making the tournament with ten straight invitations, two Final Four appearances and one trip to the national championship match (2014).
“It never gets old, even every time you see your name pop up on the Selection Show screen,” Olmstead said. “You just don’t ever really know where your name is going to land or if you’re going to be home or on the road. And so that’s the excitement and the thrill of the tournament. We never take it for granted that we’re playing at home this first match. We get to host four great teams and we get our team to understand everyone in the tournament is a good team. You’re going to have to play your very best to get by each team.”
NCAA Women’s Volleyball
Boise State (24-10) vs. No. 11 BYU (28-1)
Friday, 7 p.m. MT
Smith Fieldhouse, Provo
Live stats: byucougars.com
The Word: BYU is 9-0 in the overall series against Boise State. … The teams last met in August of 2019, a 3-0 Cougar victory at the Smith Fieldhouse. … At 4 p.m. MT, Utah (21-8) takes on Utah Valley (16-12) for the third time this season in a first round match. … The winners of Friday’s matches meet on Saturday at 7 p.m. MT.