No. 4 BYU women’s volleyball is headed to the Final Four after victories over Florida (23-25, 25-13, 25-17, 25-19) on Friday, Dec. 7, and No. 5 Texas (25-23, 25-23, 25-21) on Saturday, Dec. 8.
“We just feel really fortunate that we’re able to advance next week (to the Final Four),” BYU head coach Heather Olmstead said after defeating Texas. “(We’re) obviously ecstatic that we get to keep practicing on Monday.”
Olmstead’s squad clinched just their third NCAA tournament Final Four appearance in program history and their first since 2014. After getting knocked out in the Sweet 16 each of the last three years, the Cougars are finally back in the national semifinals.
Setter Lyndie Haddock-Eppich commented on how big of an accomplishment it is for the team to advance this far in the tournament.
“You can tell by the emotions of all of us out there that it’s just so special that we get to keep moving forward,” Haddock-Eppich said. “None of us, except Danelle (Stetler) in her fifth year, have been to the Final Four. It’s just amazing that we’ve made this accomplishment so far.”
Outside hitter Roni Jones-Perry led BYU in both matches this weekend. She recorded team highs of 17 kills against Florida and 25 against Texas. Neither the Gators or the Longhorns could find an answer for Jones-Perry, who was voted Regional MVP after the Texas match.
“I thought Roni was fantastic,” Olmstead said after the Texas match. “Twenty-five kills on 49 swings, it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
Neither match was an easy win for BYU, however. The Cougars found themselves facing a 0-1 match deficit against Florida after the Gators got off to a 5-0 lead to start the match and held BYU to just a 0.07 hitting percentage in that first set. However, BYU came out strong in the next three sets and came out with a 3-1 match win.
“I’m proud of our team for just being resilient especially after that first set,” Olmstead said after the Florida match. “They just kept believing and kept getting better and better throughout the match.”
After Jones-Perry’s 17 kills against the Gators, BYU was led by Kennedy Eschenberg, Madelyn Robinson, Heather Gneiting and Lacy Haddock, who had 11, 10, eight and eight kills respectively. Eschenberg and Gneiting added seven blocks each for the Cougars, while Haddock-Eppich had a team-high 44 assists.
BYU once again had to overcome early adversity against Texas, finding itself down 9-5 in the first set, then 17-13 later before coming back. With the set later tied at 20, kills by Haddock-Eppich, Jones-Perry and Eschenberg pushed BYU over the edge to gain the 25-23 set win.
The Cougars came out strong in the second set, trailing only twice the entire set. In the third set, BYU found itself in a 17-14 deficit, only to go on an 11-4 run to finish off both the set and the match.
“We’re a fighting team,” Jones-Perry said after the win over Texas. “We’re resilient. You probably hear it from us a lot but we do a good job at staying in the present and focusing on what we need to do on that next touch.”
BYU now travels to Minneapolis, where they will face No. 1 Stanford on Thursday, Dec. 13, in the national semifinal. The Cougars beat Stanford earlier in the season in a five-set thriller, handing the Cardinal their only loss on the year. The winner of that match earns a spot in the national championship game, which will be played on Saturday, Dec. 15.