For BYU fans, teammates and coaches, it was good to see No. 14 out on the court smashing volleyballs again.
Senior outside hitter McKenna Miller suffered a knee injury 24 games into 2018, robbing her of the rest of her season and the opportunity to reach the Final Four with her teammates. After eight months of waiting and rehab, Miller dominated at the Cougars’ Blue and White Scrimmage on Saturday afternoon in the Smith Fieldhouse. She was a big reason the White claimed a 3-1 (18-25, 25-12, 25-18, 25-21) victory.
Miller — who declined an interview request to focus on getting ready for the season — finished the scrimmage with 17 kills, hit .344 and added eight block assists in her first real game-like opportunity since early November of last year.
“Having to sit and watch the Final Four, that was hard for McKenna,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. “She was determined to work hard to come back this year and play. She’s put herself in a good position to have that opportunity. She showed a lot of resilience, hard work and a great attitude. She never complained. She just said ‘This is part of my story and I’m going to finish my senior year the best I possibly can with my team.’”
Her teammates are obviously glad to have Miller back and healthy.
“She’s worked really hard this summer,” middle blocker Kennedy Eschenberg said. “Like you saw today, she’s doing awesome.”
Miller hit .307 last season and totaled 3.25 kills per set before her injury and earned honorable mention All-American honors. She had a busy summer, rehabbing her knee and getting married to BYU men’s volleyball player Alex Ah Sue. She was a server only during the final match of spring practice and the coaching staff has been monitoring her carefully during fall camp.
“It’s been awesome to have McKenna back part of group training every day and working hard,” Olmstead said. “We are taking it day-by-day to see where we can fit her in as long as she’s feeling healthy and communicating with us. We want her to have the best senior year she can.”
Olmstead split up the teams fairly evenly through the four sets and rotated players to either side. Eschenberg totaled 13 kills with no errors and added five block assists while senior libero Mary Lake finished with 21 digs.
Saturday was the first chance for the large freshmen class to go live in front of the home crowd at the Smith Fieldhouse.
“I thought it was great environment,” Olmstead said. “I loved the crowd that came out in support of the girls and it felt like a real match. I think people are anxious to see our team, as are we, to see how they perform with the jersey on. I liked the first opportunity for our new players to put that jersey on and get a feel for it.
“I thought Abby Dayton came in and passed real well. I thought Whitney (Bower) set well and Taylen (Ballard-Nixon) and McKenna took some nice swings. We’ll look at the positives and try to get better with some of the other things we want to do.”
The Cougars, ranked No. 9 in the first American Volleyball Coaches Poll, open at home in the BYU Nike Invitational on Friday with two matches — Boise State at noon MT and Utah Valley at 7:30 p.m. MT. Marquette is also a participant in the tournament and will play the Cougars on Saturday.