A dominating performance: BYU Olympic sports make it a banner 2021
In September, the Big 12 announced it was extending membership invitations to BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida.
Among the hoopla for the Cougar football and men’s basketball programs, coaches and athletes for BYU’s Olympic sports also rejoiced.
In reality, those sports might be even more worthy of joining a Power 5 conference based on their outstanding performances in 2021.
Here’s a look at what happened with BYU’s Olympic sports last year.
10. Women’s hoops on the rise
After suffering a heart-breaking, last-second loss to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament finals, the Cougars rebounded to upset No. 6 seed Rutgers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and pushed No. 3 seed Arizona before falling late in the second round. The Wildcats advanced to the NCAA finals. The good news for BYU coach Jeff Judkins is that he returned his entire starting lineup for the 2021-22 season, including WCC co-Player of the Year Shaylee Gonzales. The Cougars posted a 10-1 record during the preseason and are currently ranked No. 18 in the AP poll.
9. Maintaining excellence
The BYU women’s volleyball team sailed through the 2021 fall regular season with just one loss (on the road to No. 4 Pittsburgh) and finished 18-0 in WCC play. The Cougars earned the No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament and won a pair of matches at home to advance to the Sweet 16, where they lost a heartbreaker to Purdue in five sets. Grad transfer Kenzie Koerber earned WCC Player of the Year and was also named All-American.
In the spring season, the Cougars advanced to the Sweet 16 of a reduced tournament before losing to top-seed Wisconsin.
8. Surprise victory
BYU’s Anna Camp-Bennett was not one of the favorites to win the 1500 meters at the NCAA Finals – she was seeded No. 15 to begin the championships – but that’s exactly what she did on June 12, closing with a great kick in the final 100 meters to hit the tape first.
7. Run, Whittni, run
On November 20, Whittni Orton made it a clean sweep and joined Conner Mantz as NCAA individual cross country champion. Orton won the women’s 6K race in 19:25.4. It was a banner 2021 for the women’s program, which won the 2020 national title in the spring of 2021 and finished second in November.
6. The passing of a legend
It’s impossible to convey the impact former coach and athletic director Glenn Tuckett had on the BYU sports programs over the years. Tuckett passed away on Oct. 26 at the age of 93 after serving in the BYU athletic department for five decades.
5. Pouncing on an opportunity
On November 16, the BYU men’s basketball team faced No. 12 Oregon at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland. The Cougars destroyed the Ducks 81-49. The 32-point win was the largest ever for BYU over a ranked team and was the first time an unranked team defeated a Top 15 team by 30 points or more since 1993.
4. Men’s volleyball earns runner-up
The Cougars were ranked No. 1 but denied a chance at winning the national title in 2020 due to the pandemic. Shawn Olmstead returned his entire starting lineup and battled to the championship match in the spring of 2021. The Cougars fell to Hawaii in the title match, ending the careers of several outstanding All-Americans such as Gabby Garcia-Fernandez and Wil Stanley. The Cougars also won their eighth Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season championship and claimed the league’s post-season tournament as well.
3. Getting to the dance
The BYU men’s basketball team deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament in 2020 but the pandemic took away that opportunity. Even with stunning losses to graduation, Cougar coach Mark Pope pushed BYU to a 20-6 record in 2021 and a No. 6 seed in the NCAA’s. The Cougars fell to UCLA in the first round but the Bruins went on to the Final Four. Guard Alex Barcello was outstanding and named honorable mention All-American.
2. So close to the top
For the first time ever, the BYU women’s soccer team advanced all the way to the NCAA Championship game. The Cougars took on No. 1 Florida State and battled into penalty kicks before falling. Seniors Mikayla Colohan and Cameron Tucker earned all kinds of post-season honors. Colohan was named Player of the Year by Top Drawer Soccer and Tucker signed a professional contract with Gotham FC.
1. He’s the man
Conner Mantz set himself as a BYU legend by winning two NCAA cross country titles in 2021. The 2020 season was postponed until the spring of 2021 in Stillwater, Okla., where Mantz won the title in 29:26.1 over the 10-kilometer course. On November 20, Mantz powered past the field in Tallahassee, Fla., in 28.33.1 to win his second championship in five months. Mantz had top 10 finishes in each of his 22 races at BYU.
The BYU men’s club soccer team won its 10th national title; The BYU men’s lacrosse team also won a club national championship, its first since 2011; BYU softball’s Violet Zavodnik wins WCC Freshman and Player of the Year; Former Spanish Fork standout Andrew Pintar earns freshman All-American honors for BYU baseball; Carson Lundell earns PING All-American honors for men’s golf; Shari Skabelund is named new BYU swimming coach; In Dave Porter’s first season, men’s tennis finishes 7-1 in WCC play an one win short of the NCAA;s; Behind WCC Player of the Year Allysha Mae Mateo, the BYU women’s golf team was ranked No. 23 in October; The women’s gymnastics team dominated the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference and finished No. 19 in the country.
BYU’s Anna Camp-Bennett celebrates after crossing the finish line first in the 1,500-meter finals in the NCAA Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday, June 12, 2021.
BYU Courtesy Photo