On back-to-back nights at the end of August, the BYU women’s soccer and volleyball teams hosted Stanford. The Cardinal were No. 1 in both sports at the time. Stanford topped the Cougars soccer team 2-0 in front of 2,272 fans at South Field and the next night BYU upset the Cardinal 3-2 in the Smith Fieldhouse in front of 3,389 patrons.

This was before classes started so the students were not yet in full force.

In the first two rounds of the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament this fall, the volleyball team played four matches in the Smith Fieldhouse. A total of 19,288 fans witnessed the Cougars’ march to the Final Four.

No matter what sport you follow faithfully, that’s excitement and support at the highest level.

Here’s a look at some of the top stories of 2018 for BYU so-called “Olympic” sports.

High-level play

The women’s volleyball team upset then No. 1 Stanford 3-2 in Provo on Aug. 31 and took over the top spot in the national polls for 11 straight weeks. A season-ending injury to junior outside hitter McKenna Miller late in the year created some adversity, but the Cougars persevered and on a memorable weekend in December knocked off Florida and Texas in the Smith Fieldhouse to earn a trip to Minnesota and the national semifinals. BYU lost to eventual champion Stanford, but finished the season 31-2. Seniors Roni Jones-Perry and Lyndie Haddock-Eppich were named first team All-Americans and Heather Olmstead earned AVCA Coach of the Year honors.

Elite once again

For the third straight season, the BYU men’s volleyball team advanced to the NCAA Championships in May. The Cougars fell to UCLA 3-1 at Pauley Pavilion in the semifinals to finish the season with a 22-7 record. Three outstanding seniors — setter Leo Durkin, outside hitter Brenden Sander and middle blocker Price Jarman — completed their eligibility and head coach Shawn Olmstead lost both of his assistant coaches. Still, expectations are always high for the Cougars.

Taking a step back

In 2017, the BYU baseball team returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time 15 years, but couldn’t match that feat in 2018. Lack of pitching depth due to injuries and a big drop in batting average sent the Cougars home early with a 22-28 overall record, 12-16 in WCC play. Head coach Mike Littlewood has 20 new players on his roster this season with hopes of getting back on track.

Individual star

For the first time in 14 years, the women’s gymnastics team produced an All-American in Shannon Evans (bars). BYU was ranked No. 17 at the end of the 2018 season, its highest national ranking in 13 years. With Evans returning it appears Guard Young has the Cougars on an upward trend.

Making the beautiful game beautiful again

The BYU women’s soccer team didn’t make their annual trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2017, and that was a big motivator for the coaches and players. An offseason of focused, hard work brought the Cougar team back to its usual place at the top of the WCC. BYU claimed the league title with an 8-1 record and finished 13-5-1 overall. More importantly, the Cougars returned to the NCAA Tournament, losing 2-1 at TCU. With the majority of her lineup coming back in 2019, Jennifer Rockwood should produce another championship contender.

Powerhouse runners

For the first time in school history, BYU placed in the top 10 nationally with both their men’s and women’s cross country teams. The men, led by a Connor Mantz in tenth place, took second place at the NCAA Championships and the women, paced by Erica Birk-Jarvis in seventh place, took seventh as a team. Ed Eyestone and Diljeet Taylor are excellent coaches and recruiters for the program, which continually challenges at the national level.

Strong finish

Eight BYU athletes earned All-American status at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in June.

Matt Owens and Clayson Shumway placed sixth and seventh, respectively, in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase; Rory Linkletter was eighth in the men’s 5,000 meters; Kevin Nielsen finished eighth in the decathlon; Andrea Stapleton-Johnson was eighth in the high jump; Ashton Riner was 11th in the women’s javelin; Connor McMillan finished 12th in the 10,000 meters and Clayton Young was 12th in the 5,000 meters.

On the links

The men’s golf team returned to the NCAA Championships for the first time in 12 years this spring, finishing 24th. Patrick Fishburn completed his great career with a strong finish at the NCAA Finals. On the women’s side, Rose Huang was a Top 25 finisher in the NCAAs.

More of the same

Gordon Eakin and the Cougar softball team just seem to reload every year and 2018 produced good results. BYU won the WCC by sweeping Loyola Marymount to finish with a 13-1 conference mark. The Cougars qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the 14th straight time, going 1-2 in the Drake Regional. Plenty of talent returns for Eakin, including outfielder Rylee Jensen (WCC Player of the Year) and All-American candidate Libby Sugg at catcher.

New pool for swim team

The 52-year old pool in the Richards Building was due for an update and got one this year. The move was not without controversy, however, as the pool was 42 yards long — short by about 11.5 meters of the Olympic standard of 50 meters.

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter @darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

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