No. 2 San Diego earns 3-1 victory at No. 18 BYU
The last women’s volleyball match in the Smith Fieldhouse this season brought together the top two teams in the West Coast Conference.
In fact, since BYU joined the league in 2011, the Cougars and San Diego have won or shared the regular-season title in 11 of the 12 seasons.
In 2022, it was the Toreros turn.
No. 18 BYU won the first set and competed throughout the night but dropped a four-setter to No. 2 San Diego (25-21, 19-25, 22-25, 22-25) in front of 4,677 fans on Tuesday.
The Cougars hit .205 to the Toreros’ .243. San Diego recorded three more kills than BYU, at 58 to 55, and outblocked the Cougars, 11-7.
Breanna Edwards led San Diego (27-1 overall, 18-0 WCC) with 18 kills and hit .484, committing only three errors on 31 swings. Grace Frohling and Leyla Blackwell also had double figure kills with 13 and 12, respectively. Libero Annie Benbow was terrific all night, leading both teams with 20 digs.
Outside hitter Erin Livingston and middle blocker Heather Gneiting led BYU with 13 kills each. Fellow middle blocker Whitney Llarenas tallied 12 kills of her own. Gneiting, Llarenas and outside hitter Elyse Stowell each added three blocks.
BYU (21-6, 15-3) played great defense behind the block, logging 58 digs with two players (Aria McComber with 13 and Kelsey Knudsen with 11) in double figures.
“I’m proud of just the way they kept believing and just tried to problem solve their way through that match,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. “I mean, it wasn’t our best match. Congrats to San Diego. They played a great match and they especially played well and sets three and four. We had a hard time stopping and slowing down their offense. I don’t think we served well enough, but I’m proud of the way that we didn’t give up and just kept trying to side out and point score as best we could. I’m proud of the effort.”
Four-year starting setter Whitney Bower, who had missed the past seven matches due to a knee injury, returned the the lineup wearing a brace and contributed 44 assists, nine digs and three kills.
BYU got off to a fast start, leading 6-0 before San Diego got on the board. A service ace from Bower brought the Smith Fieldhouse to its feet as the Cougars continued to have control and maintain their lead through the first set, ahead 18-13.
BYU won Set 1 25-21, as Llarenas got the final kill. BYU outhit San Diego .220 to .136 in the first set.
The Toreros eventually began to build a lead in Set 2 with an 11-7 advantage. BYU began to make a run, cutting its deficit to 24-19 late in the set, but the Toreros were able to hang on and win 25-19.
In Set 3, a Livingston kill out of a timeout sparked a 3-0 run for the Cougars, tying the set at 8. A service ace from Livingston gave BYU a 10-9 lead in the set, but the Toreros regained the lead at 13-12. Another Livingston kill tied the score at 16-16, with a service ace from Livingston giving the Cougars a 19-18 lead before a timeout was called.
San Diego regained the lead at 21-20 before another timeout was called. The Toreros were able to hang on and win the set 25-22.
After a back-and-forth start, the Toreros took a five-point lead in Set 4 at 19-14. San Diego continued to apply pressure and led 21-15. Livingston’s 13th kill kept BYU alive as the Cougars went on a 3-0 run, cutting their deficit to 22-19 before a timeout was called. BYU kept fighting, but the Toreros were able to hang on and win the set 25-22.
“We needed a few more blocks and we needed to get more stops in set three and four,” Olmstead said. “They hit over .350 and Set 3 and .333 in Set 4. We were scrappy in Sets 1 and 2 and really put pressure on them. Then our serve got a little lax in Sets 3 and 4 and that gave them some life. That gave them some energy and they just ran with it.”
The Cougars will now await the NCAA Selection Show, scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 27 at 5:30 p.m. MST on ESPNU, for their NCAA Tournament seeding.