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No. 5 Cougars sweep past Pepperdine

By Darnell Dickson - | Nov 11, 2021

BYU women's volleyball coach Heather Olmstead (center) smiles in a team huddle during a match against Pepperdine in the Smith Fieldhouse on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. (Courtesy BYU Photo)

The BYU women’s volleyball machine keeps operating at peak efficiency.

The No. 5 Cougars have been practically untouchable in West Coast Conference play and that continued Friday night with a 3-0 (25-15, 25-17, 25-8) sweep of Pepperdine in front of 2,973 at the Smith Fieldhouse.

The win ran BYU’s WCC record to 14-0, but there’s more: The Cougars set record in those 14 wins is 42-2. Pepperdine is one of two WCC teams to have taken a set from the Cougars. Loyola Marymount, which comes to Provo on Saturday, is the other.

You’ll get nothing, the BYU defense says, and you’ll like it.

“We’re difficult when we’re firing on all cylinders,” Cougar coach Heather Olmstead said in a bit of an understatement. “We were down some people tonight, too. I just like the way everyone is ready to go.”

The third set showed just the kind of dominance that’s been ruining opponents all season. BYU was up 2-0 in sets and Set 3 was tied at 4-4. The Cougars scored 13 consecutive points, getting a pair of aces from Kenzie Koerber, a pair of kills from Taylen Ballard-Nixon and suffocating defense that kept Pepperdine from a glimmer of hope for a comeback. The lead was 17-4 at that point.

“I think it means we’re executing our game plan well and that’s pretty cool to see,” Ballard-Nixon said. “I think we played well offensively and defensively, so all around our team did it’s job.”

At second match point, BYU extended the rally with terrific hustle on the defensive end and finally earned the sweep at 25-8 with a Pepperdine hitting error.

BYU, the leading offensive team in the country, hit .354, including a sizzling .462 in the third set against the third-best team in the WCC. Ballard-Nixon led the Cougars with 11 kills and Koerber added 10. Kennedy Eschenberg contributed nine kills and four block assists and Whitney Bower had a terrific performance at setter with 31 assists and 11 digs. Staring libero Madi Allen and backup setter Tayler Hifo were not available for the match but Gretchen Reinert filled in admirably defensively with 11 digs and a team-best four aces.

The Cougars held Pepperdine (10-4 WCC, 18-5 overall) to a minuscule .008 hitting percentage and since BYU is No. 1in the country in defensive hitting percentage, that tracks. Rachel Ahrens led the Waves with 13 kills but hit just .140 with seven errors.

“I was impressed because it was a great team effort tonight,” Olmstead said. “We’re playing team ball and playing in our system both offensively and defensively. It all starts with our serving. I thought it was one of our better serving nights. We had six aces and five errors. Anytime you have more aces than errors is a good night and we put a lot of service pressure on them.”

BYU was super efficient in Set 1, siding out at nearly 87 percent. The Cougar defense was also up to the challenge, holding Pepperdine to a .026 hitting percentage and forcing nine Waves hitting errors. BYU began to pull away after an Erin Livingston kill, followed by a quick attack from Eschenberg, for a 9-6 lead. The Cougars led by as many as nine points, 24-15, after a kill by Koerber and a Pepperdine error. At set point, Koerber’s attack was ruled out but challenged by BYU coach Heather Olmstead for a touch. BYU was awarded the point after video review for a 25-15 victory.

The Cougars hit .355 with four kills from Eschenberg, along with two blocks, and three kills from Koerber.

BYU won the second set in similar fashion. A Livingston kill and an ace by Bower gave the Cougars a 12-10 lead and they would never be headed. After a long rally, BYU got to 20-15 on a kill by Ballard-Nixon. Livingston notched a pretty cross court swing to get to set point and a Pepperdine error closed things out at 25-17, giving the home team a 2-0 lead in the match.

BYU (14-0 WCC, 24-1 overall), on a 17-match winning streak, will host Loyola Marymount at 1 p.m. MT on Saturday and will honor seniors Whitney Llarenas, Ballard-Nixon, Hifo, Koerber. Eschenberg and Reinert.

“I hope I can keep it together,” Olmstead said. “I love them and they’re such a different, unique group. You’ve got a sixth year (Eschenberg), a fifth year (Ballard-Nixon), two four years in Tayler and Whitney and two with five or six months in Kenzie and Gretchen. The work they’ve been putting in to mesh and be the very best for each other, I’m proud of their leadership. They come from all different parts of the country and I’m grateful for that.”

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