SALT LAKE CITY — BYU owns Utah.
In women’s volleyball, anyway.
The 12th-ranked Cougars took down No. 18 Utah 3-1 (25-22, 25-21, 12-25, 25-18) at the Huntsman Center for their ninth win the past 10 meetings in the series, riding a monster game by senior outside hitting McKenna Miller and recovering from a bad third set to regain control of the match.
BYU (8-2) won the first two sets but Utah handed out a beat down in Set 3.
“We just went back to work,” BYU head coach Heather Olmstead said. “We kept our focus. I told them to have a short memory as far as winning the first two sets and losing the third. I said, ‘Forget that set. Let’s get back to work.’ They did that from the very first point of the fourth set.”
The Cougars got off to a great start in Set 4, leading the Utes 6-1 early. Utah rallied but never quite caught BYU. The Cougars got a key out-of-system kill by Miller after a long rally for a 20-16 lead and powered through to the end of the set, getting a block from Miller and Kennedy Eschenberg for a 23-17 lead. At match point, a Utah attack went long and the Cougars had the four-set victory.
“I liked our passing a lot,” Olmstead said. “Kennedy played amazing. I thought Whitney (Bower) kept problem solving the whole match and kept looking for people to score. Obviously, McKenna was an absolute beast tonight. She wanted it and I’m very happy for her.”
Miller knocked down 22 kills — the most she’s had since 2017 — and hit a robust .413. She was especially good when the Cougars were out of system and had a knack for tooling the block or finding the open court.
“When I’m off the court I don’t want to feel like I’m not in control of the play,” Miller said. “I probably want the ball more than I should and I’m a little selfish. But I know I can put it away. Whitney and Ki (Kiani Moea’i) both set me great balls. All of the out-of-system sets were great, too. I was feeling it tonight.”
Set 1 was back and forth until BYU took a three-point lead, 17-14, after kills from Madi Robinson and Riley Lyman. Utah surged to take a 22-21 lead, but the Cougars scored four of the next five points, taking the set 25-22 on a kill by Eschenberg.
Utah led 10-7 in Set 2, mostly due to five BYU hitting errors. The Cougars rallied at took an 18-15 lead after a 3-0 run, keyed by a dump attack from Bower and kills from Miller and Eschenberg for an 18-15 advantage.
A Grace Wee ace pushed the BYU lead to 24-21 and Heather Gneiting’s slide attack found the floor at set point for a 25-21 win and a two to nothing lead in the match.
BYU came out flat in Set 3 and Utah made the Cougars pay. The Utes roared to a 9-2 lead and BYU couldn’t get any closer than five points the rest of the way. Utah hit .515 with just one error and a kill by Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres gave the home team an easy 25-12 win to force the fourth set.
BYU got off to a great start in Set 4, leading the Utes 6-1 early and were never headed in securing the match win.
“In the third set we weren’t playing volleyball like we know we can,” Miller said. “We got that set out of our system and we started doing our jobs. I’m proud of the freshmen because they showed maturity in that fourth set. They just focused and did their jobs when we needed to.”
Eschenberg had seven kills, hit .438 and added four block assists for BYU. Bower finished with 37 assists and nine digs. Senior libero Mary Lake added 17 digs for the Cougars.
Dani Drews topped Utah (8-3) with 21 kills and libero Brianna Doehrmann added 25 digs.
BYU takes on No. 2 Stanford in Palo Alto on Saturday. The Cardinal — the defending national champions — swept the Cougars in the Final Four last season. On Wednesday, Stanford knocked off No. 1 Nebraska in Lincoln in four sets.