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No. 11 BYU roars back in Set 3 to earn sweep of Saint Mary’s

By Darnell Dickson - | Sep 25, 2021

Madeline Mortensen

The BYU women's volleyball team celebrates a point in a match against Utah Valley in Orem on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

There you are, taking care of business as an 11th-ranked team should by winning the first two sets against Saint Mary’s, when things change.

The Gaels jumped out to a 6-0 lead against BYU in the third set, seizing all the momentum.

What do you do?

The Cougars responded, outscoring Saint Mary’s 25-12 the rest of the way to complete a 3-0 sweep (25-18, 25-17, 25-18) in front of 2,351 fans at the Smith Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon.

“We just had to refocus,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. “We needed to get a pass. Saint Mary’s had come out serving us really short but in the third game started serving us flatter and deeper. So their strategy changed and we had to adjust to their adjustment. It took us a little longer than I would have liked but Maddie (Allen) went on a little serving run. We started getting good touches in that third set and got our focus back.”

Saint Mary’s came out strong in Set 3 and took a 5-0 lead, causing Olmstead to take an early time out.

Kenzie Koerber, who led BYU with 16 kills and hit .500, said she took it upon herself to give her teammates a lift in the third set.

“I hadn’t had to be very intense in the first two sets because we were kind of rolling,” the excitable Koerber said. “I realized I probably had to be my crazy self in the third. The team kind of looks to me to bring that energy and fire. We had to flip the switch and get more fired up.”

Allen had a pair of aces as the Cougars quickly tied the set at 6-all and a block from Heather Gneiting and Taylen Ballard-Nixon gave BYU a 7-6 lead. Saint Mary’s kept it close and trailed 19-17 when Kelsey Knudsen scored an ace.

From there, the BYU offense got rolling and scored six of the next seven points. A Koerber kill got the Cougars to match point and Kennedy Eschenberg got the winner down the middle for the 25-18 win.

BYU (2-0 WCC, 12-1 overall) hit .404 for the match, with Gneiting (eight kills, .357), Eschenberg (8 kills, .538) and Ballard-Nixon (seven kills, .312) doing plenty of damage to support Koerber’s big game.

Outside hitter Erin Livingston, who injured her ankle in the win against Utah on Sept. 16, is still recovering so Olmstead has turned to freshmen Sophie Callahan and Elyse Stowell to fill in and see their first meaningful reps. Both showed potential against Saint Mary’s with Stowell contributing three kills and two blocks and Callahan hitting .714 (five kills, zero errors) in the third set.

“I’m happy for Sophie and Elyse to get some looks,” Olmstead said. “They’re both working on thing like hitting high with range and on ball control. If they come in confident the team knows they can come in and make a difference. They want to see that from their body language. We want them to be able to handle things with confidence.”

Next week the Cougars embark on a Bay Area road trip with West Coast Conference matches at Santa Clara on Thursday and San Francisco on Saturday. BYU has played 10 of its 13 games in Utah, with the trip to Pennsylvania for the Panther Challenge — hosted by No. 4 Pitt — the only true road trip.

Playing on the road in the WCC is very different than in front of the large crowds at the Fieldhouse.

“We just focus on ourselves,” Koerber said. “We focus on our skills and our strengths. I don’t think the environment has to effect us. We just try to stay composed and focusing on the energy that our team brings.”


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