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Cougars earn rivalry sweep of No. 10 Utah

By Darnell Dickson - | Sep 16, 2021

The BYU women's volleyball team celebrates a point in front of a supportive home crowd at the Smith Fieldhouse against the University of Utah on Thursday, Sept, 16, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

The BYU women’s volleyball team missed their chance to get a Top 10 victory last week at No. 3 Pittsburgh.

The Cougars didn’t waste the opportunity Thursday night in the Smith Fieldhouse.

No. 15 BYU played their best volleyball of the season and swept No. 10 Utah 3-0 (25-23, 25-23, 25-16) in front of a packed-in crowd of 5,140 still basking in the glory of a football victory over the Utes on Saturday.

“This win is huge for our team and our confidence coming off that tough road trip,” Cougar coach Heather Olmstead said.” We wanted to clean some things up and play a little tidier and we did that. I loved our energy and I thought we served and passed well. We hit .300 against a really big team up front. (Assistant coach) Dave Hyte put together a great plan defensively and the girls followed it.”

The Cougars (9-1) raced to big leads in the first two sets and had to fight off the Utes to hold on for close wins. BYU powered past Utah in Set 3, keyed by an 8-1 run to take a 12-5 lead. The Utes closed to 20-15, but the Cougars scored the final five points of the set, getting a kill by Kennedy Eschenberg to end the match.

Opposite hitter Kenzie Koerber, who transferred to BYU from Utah this summer, led the Cougars with 14 kills before leaving late in Set 3 with a cramp in her calf.

It was all part of a very emotional few days for Koerber. Her grandmother passed away this week and a number of family members traveled to Provo to attend the game on Thursday.

“You know, it was just a long week leading up to this game, for sure,” Koerber said. “I had media after me and people texting me asking me how I was feeling so early in the week so it was a little tough. I was pretty anxious all week and this morning I woke up and I was anxious all day until around 3 o’clock. I just wanted the game to be here.

“I really took the time, though, to tell myself it was just another game. I know there is a lot of emotion attached to this game but I knew that if I wanted to perform and I wanted to win and to do the best I could, I needed to remain calm.”

Koerber had seven kills in the first set to get the Cougars off to a good start in the match.

“My sister is here from Hawaii,” Koerber said. “She’s a nurse in the Army and she hasn’t been to a game in probably two and a half years so it was cool to have her here. My parents are here and it’s their first time here with me on the BYU team. To look up and see all my family in (BYU) shirts for me and just all the little kids so excited to see me, it was awesome.”

BYU started strong and led Set 1 by as many as seven points, 20-13, on a Koerber kill. Utah battled back and pulled with one, 23-22, when Madi Robinson went off the block. The Utes fought off one set point to close to 24-23. After a long rally, Robinson made a nice defensive play on a Heather Gneiting shot to keep the ball in play, but Kennedy Eschenberg blocked the ball and Utah couldn’t keep it off the floor, giving the Cougars a 25-23 win.

Set 2 was a repeat of the first set as BYU eased to a big lead. The Cougars led 20-10 after Whitney Bower’s gritty dig led to a Taylen Ballard-Nixon kill. But Utah went on a 9-1 run and closed to 21-19 on an ace from Emily Smith. The Utes again fought off a set point and made it 24-23, but the Cougars finally ended it on an Eschenberg kill off the Utah block for a 25-23 victory and a 2-0 lead in the match.

Eschenberg contributed 12 kills (.478) and a pair of blocks. Gneiting added nine kills as BYU hit a robust .289 as a team. Whitney Bower had 33 assists for the Cougars and made some great defensive plays as well, finishing with a team-high 16 digs.

Robinson, who played for BYU until transferring to Utah after the 2019 season, led the Utes (7-2) with 10 kills and added six digs. All-American Dani Drews, who was named the national player of the week after leading the Utes past No. 3 Nebraska in Lincoln last Friday, had just seven kills on 34 swings (with four errors) and hit just .088.

“I think tonight just shows that we can rock it when we’re firing on all cylinders and so it’s exciting to get that win under our belt and prepare for Saturday night and then heading into conference the next week,” Koerber said.

The announced crowd of 5,140 was No. 4 all-time at the Fieldhouse for a women’s volleyball match.

BYU will travel up University Parkway to play Utah Valley on Saturday at 6 p.m. MT. The Utes begin Pac 12 play on Sept. 22 at Washington.

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