The Cougars came out on top after a back-and-forth five-set match against Saint Mary’s (25-14, 23-25, 26-24, 21-25, 15-13) to increase the home win streak to 19 games.
BYU improved to 9-3 overall and 2-0 in conference.
“I believed it would be a match like that; I’m not surprised at all,” said head coach Shawn Olmstead. “This is a great conference, and I’m really, really happy with where we’re at right now.”
BYU started off strong with a 6-2 lead on SMC. Tambre Haddock led the set with 6 kills, and the Gaels could not stop the Cougars (25-14).
The second set started off with the same energy, but BYU traded points with SMC until the Cougars pulled slightly ahead at 6-4. Both teams battled on defense and brought big blocks staying within one or two points of each other.
Alexa Gray entered the game and built momentum for the Cougars with a sharp outside kill to tie the game at 10. BYU scrambled for the ball and fell behind, issuing a timeout from Olmstead.
The Cougars returned to the court energized but soon struggled and fell behind 16-11. With strong blocking and attacking they climbed their way back to within a point. The momentum hung on the Cougars’ side of the court until the Gaels pulled ahead to take the set 25-23.
“We took our foot off the gas. Our energy definitely went down, and we lost a little focus,” Olmstead said.
The Cougars came out strong in set three, but the Gaels didn’t back down. A series of BYU kills and SMC errors pushed BYU ahead, but the Gaels battled back to tie it at 8, 12, 16 and 20. Sophomore libero Ciara Parker and junior defensive specialist Tia Withers Welling were aggressive in the back row, digging up everything.
Gray ended a long rally with a strong outside attack to put the Cougars at set point 24-23. The Gaels tied it, but the Cougars took advantage of an SMC attack error, and Gray put up a solid block to take set three (26-24).
Set four remained close until BYU fell 20-14. A huge momentum swing for BYU with three consecutive kills from Haddock brought the Cougars within two points, but a BYU service error and a SMC kill sent them into a fifth set (21-25).
“We need to stay focused and maintain the energy from playing together and focusing on our jobs,” said Tambre Haddock, a junior outside hitter.
The fifth and final set saw both teams scrambling to win the match. The set was tied 6-6 before outside hitters Gray, Haddock and Hannah Robison each attacked, pulling BYU ahead 9-6. The Gaels fought back, creating a close match before Gray sent the game to match point 14-12 with an impressive kill and finished the match 15-13.
Setter and leader on the court Camry Godfrey tried to encourage and motivate her teammates during tough matches like these.
“I try to encourage the team to win the next play, or I look to a specific hitter to put the next ball away and try to motivate them that way,” Godfrey said.
The Cougars return to the Smith Fieldhouse Sept. 28 to play Pacific, a new addition to the West Coast Conference.