BYU women’s volleyball has embraced the transfer portal entering the fall 2021 season and brought in three new players: University of Utah All-American right side Kenzie Koerber and liberos Aria McComber (Washington State) and Gretchen Reinert (Santa Clara).
Clearly, BYU coach Heather Olmstead is focusing on passing and serve-receive — and for good reason.
The Cougars struggled in their pass game in a 3-0 Sweet 16 loss to No. 1 seed Wisconsin during the NCAA Tournament this spring and bringing in two experienced liberos as well as a six-rotation star like Koerber addresses those issues.
Integrating those three players into a roster with a veteran returning group as well as the No. 5 recruiting class in the country is foremost in the Cougars offseason preparation.
“Our approach will be the same,” Olmstead said. “There’s not much time to learn our system. We’ll do the best we can to get everybody up to speed and get playing. We have three weeks (from the start of fall camp on August 9) until our first match. These transfers, they happened in a combination of ways. Some of it was kind of random but we had connections to all the kids that helped us.
“There are more kids available since the NCAA has given everyone an extra year because of the pandemic. It’s a unique situation and we’re going to take advantage of it if it’s the right thing for us.”
A welcome change
The addition of Koerber — as well as the return from a church mission by middle blocker Heather Gneiting — means BYU could field a starting lineup of five All-Americans in Koerber, Gneiting, setter Whitney Bower, middle blocker Kennedy Eschenberg and outside hitter Talyn Ballard-Nixon.
The 6-foot-3 Koerber is so competitive that she has kept track of her record during team scrimmages this summer. So far, she’s 11-0.
“I just refuse to lose,” she said. “I think I can help take charge in that aspect of the game and bring intensity any time we’re on the court.”
Koerber was a second team All-American at Utah this spring, her third All-American citation. She totaled 163 kills last season — second only to first-team All-American Dani Drews — while leading Utah in aces (26) and finishing third in blocks (44). The Utes made four NCAA appearances and two trips to the Sweet 16 during Koerber’s four years on the Hill.
Koerber was baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 2019 and said she was looking for more than just impressive statistics and on-court success.
“Utah was a great experience but I feel like there were things in my life I didn’t achieve,” she said. “I felt like I needed to be somewhere I could progress more as a person and BYU is a perfect place to do that. I felt like I wanted to be pushed in different ways.”
Koerber played for Olmstead — and with Gneiting — during the summer of 2019 on the U.S. Collegiate National Team in Japan.
“Coach Olmstead was really personable and I felt like she really cared about me as a player and a person,” Koerber said. “We are very similar in that we both have a strong desire to win and we’re both very competitive. I want to do big things in my last year of volleyball and we have the power to do that.”
Koerber was familiar with most of BYU’s current players but it took some time to adjust to new terminology and having married teammates. She came to Provo in early June and is hard at work as the Cougars host numerous volleyball camps.
“It almost feels like I’m a freshman again,” she said. “I have a clean slate and this summer has been awesome. It’s the breath of fresh air I really needed.”
Koerber feels her leadership and skills can help the Cougars make a big run in the NCAA Tournament this fall.
“I truly believe we can win it all,” she said. “There’s a lot of talk about having five All-Americans and getting back to the Final Four and none of that scares me. I thrive off that. If we can fit into all our roles and click together we can be unstoppable.”
A serious student
McComber earned her bachelors degree in Business Administration with a minor in Chinese from Washington State this spring. She’ll be pursuing her masters in environmental science at BYU with plans to focus on corporate sustainability.
“I want to help the world become more green,” she said. “The best step for that is to work with corporations and their supply chains and teach them how to be more earth friendly.”
While in Pullman, McComber was a two-time Pac 12 Academic Honor Roll awardee and was named to the WSU Presidential Academic Honor Roll nine consecutive times.
Back in 2018, McComber told her coaches at Washington State that she was planning on graduating in three years and would be looking for a graduate school.
She made good on that goal.
“I took 18 credits every semester and went to school every summer,” McComber said. “Heather told me it was going to be a hard load as a grad student and playing volleyball at BYU, but I’ve always wanted to learn as much as I can while playing volleyball as much as I can.”
McComber, who is from Hawaii, was recruited by BYU while in high school and developed a relationship with assistant coach David Hyte. She ultimately chose Washington State.
“Up front, it was important for me to find a way to finance my additional schooling,” McComber said. “That’s when the doors opened for me at BYU. The girls here have been super nice and reached out to me before I got here. They’ve helped make my transition way smoother.”
McComber appeared in all 16 matches and all 62 sets for Washington State during the spring season, starting at libero. She was second on the team in digs with 158 and totaled 59 assists.
“I’m hoping to add more depth to the passing and the defense,” McComber said. “That way we give our hitters more options and the freedom to do what they need to do. This team is going to be a top four contender this season. I’m coming from a program that went to the NCAA’s every year I was there and every weekend in the Pac 12 was a battle. I know BYU is top notch when it comes to that.”
McComber has a pretty strong tie to BYU as well. Men’s volleyball players Wil and Jon Stanley, also native Hawaiians, are related by marriage. McComber calls them her “extended brothers.”
“We talked on the phone and they told me how much they love it here and how big volleyball is,” she said. “They’re a big reason why I came here.”
Coming home again
Reinert was a two-year starter at libero for Santa Clara, totaling 709 digs, 173 assists and 42 aces during her career. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in retail studies this spring.
“I’m not going to lie, I was freaking out a little bit,” she said. “It wasn’t going to work out financially for me to stay at Santa Clara. I really want to coach after I’m done playing volleyball and be a graduate assistant somewhere. My Santa Clara coach (Erin Lindsey) told me if there was any ounce of me that still wanted to play, I should enter the transfer portal. BYU contacted me within 24 hours. I was like, ‘The BYU we play in the WCC?’ I couldn’t believe it so I took a screen shot of the e-mail they sent me and talked to Jonny (assistant coach Jonny Neeley) that day.”
Now she’s going to wear Cougar blue, preparing for the season and a masters degree in public administration. Reinert said playing the Cougars twice a year during WCC play has helped her acclimate to life in Provo.
“It’s definitely different,” she said. “At Santa Clara there’s no honor code but it’s a Jesuit school. We lived in Provo for 11 years and I was born here so I was prepared for it and it wasn’t too much of a culture shock.”
Reinert’s ties to the state of Utah run deep. She was raised in Provo while her father, Jeff Reinert, was coaching at BYU as an assistant (1991-94) and then as head coach at Utah Valley (1994-2002). He is currently the head coach at junior college powerhouse Southern Idaho.
Twin Falls is about a four-hour drive to Provo and would provide opportunities for Jeff Reinert and his wife, Trish, to see their daughter in action at the Smith Fieldhouse.
“I’m so excited for BYU fans to be cheering for me in such a great atmosphere,” Gretchen Reinert said. “When I played at Santa Clara, even though they weren’t cheering for us, it was still the best place to play volleyball in the conference.”