BYU volleyball middle blockers contribute on offense, defense

Kennedy Eschenberg (24) and McKenna Miller (14) go up for a block against St. Mary’s on Sept. 22, 2018. (BYU Photo)

Middle blockers Kennedy Eschenberg and Heather Gneiting have contributed in big ways to the BYU women’s volleyball team so far this season.

The sophomore-freshman duo has helped BYU remain one of the top teams in the country in blocks per set this season with 2.75. Individually, Eschenberg ranks 19th in the country in total blocks with 85, while Gneiting ranks 62nd with 71.

“Our middles have been working hard,” said BYU head coach Heather Olmstead. “They’ve been doing a good job of seeing the setter and getting over square on the hitters and being a presence.”

Kennedy Eschenburg goes up for a kill during a contest played against Pacific on Sept. 20. (Claire Gentry)

Not only have Eschenberg and Gneiting been a force on the defensive side for the Cougars, but they’ve also left their mark on the offensive side as well. The two have combined for a total of 229 kills so far this year.

“They’re doing a really good job at being a part of our offense,” Olmstead said. “Lyndie (Haddock-Eppich) knows she can set them at any time. That’s a big deal for our offense — that we can set our middles and that they always try and make themselves available.”

Although they are both underclassmen, Eschenberg and Gneiting have made immediate impacts in their college careers.

Last year, as a freshman, Eschenberg played in all 33 matches. She recorded a total of 10 solo blocks and 140 block assists. In addition, she also accumulated 149 kills and had a .286 hitting percentage.

Gneiting, who graduated in January 2018 from Pleasant Grove High School to start practicing with the Cougars, also had a solid start to her freshman year. She’s played in all 18 of BYU’s matches so far this season and recorded a total of 110 kills on a .418 hitting percentage.

Heather Gneiting (2) and Madelyn Robinson (3) attempt a block against Utah on Sept. 13, 2018. (BYU Photo)

Gneiting said Eschenberg’s mentoring is a big reason why Gneiting has had such a quick start to her career at BYU.

“I’ve been following (Eschenberg) and seeing what she’s been doing,” Gneiting said. “She’s taught me a lot of stuff, and she’s really awesome to play middle with.”

Eschenberg said she has also learned from Gneiting and that the two push each other to keep improving.

“She’s pushed me, and we push each other,” Eschenberg said. “It’s cool that we had all of last winter to work together.”

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