When Pepperdine forced No. 13 BYU to a fifth set, the Cougars unleashed their secret weapon.
Sophomore Madi Robinson — who played in the back row for most of the match — had four kills and a block assist in the fifth set as BYU ran away from the Waves in a 3-2 (25-15, 25-19, 20-25, 20-25, 15-3) victory in front of 3,646 fans at the Smith Fieldhouse on Senior Night.
Behind the serve of freshman Abbey Dayton, BYU went on a 10-0 run in the fifth set to make the score 12-2.
Fittingly, senior Kiani Moeai sealed the win with a service ace at match point.
Senior McKenna Miller led the way offensively for BYU, registering 18 kills to go along with eight digs and two blocks. Junior Taylen Ballard-Nixon recorded a career high in kills with 14 on a .364 hitting percentage. The Cougar attack featured six players that recorded at least six kills in Miller, Ballard-Nixon, Heather Gneiting (9), Kate Grimmer (7), Kennedy Eschenberg (6) and Robinson (6).
Senior Mary Lake added 15 digs, four assists and an ace while freshman Whitney Bower had 46 assists, 11 digs and three blocks.
“I’m so proud of our team for battling hard the whole night,” BYU head coach Heather Olmstead said. “I’m happy for our seniors who gave it their all and really played for each other. The crowd was incredible and I can’t thank them enough for showing up and supporting our team.”
The Cougars (25-4 overall, 16-2 WCC) are a lock for an at-large NCAA Tournament invitation, but what’s up in the air is whether BYU has done enough to earn one of the top 16 seeds. That would mean the possibility of two more home matches in the Fieldhouse.
The first set against Peppedine featured four ties early, with BYU claiming a 9-8 edge before getting into a rhythm offensively. Ballard-Nixon paced the Cougars with six kills in the set while hitting .667. In addition to stellar offense, the home team’s defense held the opposing squad to a -.062 hitting percentage. BYU’s attack proved to be too much for the Waves as the Cougars gained 14 kills in the set to Pepperdine’s six leading to a 25-15 set victory for BYU.
BYU got out to a quick lead in Set 2, taking a 6-1 advantage that the team would never relinquish. Miller led the way offensively, posting six kills to bring her hitting percentage to .526. Eighteen of the Cougars’ 25 points in the set were kills as five different players recorded at least two kills. BYU’s offensive firepower proved to be too much for Pepperdine as Kate Grimmer ended the set with an emphatic kill, making the final score 25-19.
The Cougars could not quite match Pepperdine’s intensity in Set 3 as the Waves were aggressive out of the gate. Ballard-Nixon secured her career-high 13th kill in the set, but it wasn’t enough as BYU fell, 25-20.
Pepperdine imposed its will early in Set 4, not relinquishing a lead till BYU went ahead 13-12. The Cougars were able to hang with the Waves until they pulled away late, ultimately falling in the fourth set, 25-20.
BYU will now learn its postseason fate on Sunday during the NCAA Selection Show at 6:30 p.m. MT on ESPNU.