The BYU Cougars swept the UC Irvine Anteaters on Thursday in 3 sets (25-16, 25-18, 25-20).
BYU created a comfortable 4-0 lead against UCI to start the first set. A series of long rallies and kills from outside hitters Alexa Gray and Tambre Haddock helped the Cougars maintain the lead through the entire set.
After several aggressive attacks on the outside, Haddock made a smart play and tipped the ball right behind UCI’s block for the kill at 15-6.
Gray swung at two back-to-back kills forcing UCI into a time out. A pancake play from libero Tia Withers Welling in the back row set Gray up perfectly for the kill on the outside and the Cougars quickly took the first set 25-16.
BYU began set two with another 4-0 lead on UCI, with the four points coming from a service ace and attacks from the middle, the outside and the right side.
Toward the middle of the set, UCI went on a run, but Gray put a stop to it with a kill on the outside to put BYU at 19-13. Jessica Jardine made several kills on the right side and built momentum to end the second set 25-18.
“We did a nice job of adjusting in sets one and two when we had nice leads,” head coach Shawn Olmstead said. “We’ve got to work on finishing a little better through the end.”
The Cougars struggled with defense in the third set, allowing the Anteaters to hang with the Cougars and trade points. Gray separated the score with some strong outside attacks and helped BYU gain a 4 point lead.
UCI crept back to tie the set at 20-20 as BYU struggled defensively. Junior Hannah Robison killed a back row attack and Gray finished the match 25-20 with consecutive kills on the outside.
Senior middle blocker Kathryn LeCheminant proved to be a secret weapon for the Cougars. The passes were all in the right place, which gave setter Camry Godfrey some opportunities to run the offense and spread it out more.
“(LeCheminant) did a great job running the slide,” Godfrey said. “We have strong hitters on the outside, but it definitely helps if we can get our middles involved.”
LeCheminant said the team has worked hard to develop that angle of the offense.
“We’ve been working hard in practice to connect and establish that relationship on the slide,” LeCheminant said.
The Cougars will prepare to play rival Utah on Sept. 17 in Salt Lake City to continue the season’s momentum.
“We’re at exactly where I thought we’d be, so I’m happy with that,” Olmstead said.