MINNEAPOLIS — The No. 4 BYU women’s volleyball team fell to No. 1 Stanford in straight sets (25-15, 25-15, 25-18) Thursday, Dec. 13, at the Target Center.
The NCAA national semifinal loss denied the Cougars the opportunity to play for a national championship and put an end to one of the most successful seasons in program history.
“It’s been an incredible season, one that obviously that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives,” said BYU head coach Heather Olmstead, who was named national coach of the year earlier in the day. “This match is not going to define this group. They wanted to get here, and they did it, against a lot of odds. So I’m really proud of them.”
The Cougars struggled offensively all night against Stanford. BYU, which came into the match leading the nation in hitting percentage with a 0.315 average, was held to a -0.026 hitting percentage against Stanford. Stanford also came into the match leading the nation in blocks per set at 3.39, but averaged a whopping 5.67 against BYU with a total of 17 blocks on the night.
“They were a really good block, so it was tough,” BYU outside hitter Roni Jones-Perry said. “They did a really nice job.”
The Cougars came out strong in the first set, using a 6-0 run highlighted by a series of Jones-Perry kills to jump out to a 7-4 lead. Soon after, however, BYU began to struggle, and could never seem to find the offensive rhythm that had given them so much success this season.
“As soon as our passing broke down in set one, it was hard for us to generate any any offense,” Olmstead said. “The passing wasn’t there, and the sets were off the net. They took us out of our game.”
After coming back to tie the first set at 12, Stanford went on a 13-3 run to finish off the set and take the 1-0 match lead.
In the second set both teams came out fairly even, and the score was tied at 9 early on. However, Stanford went on a 10-2 run to claim a 19-11 lead to all but put BYU away. The Cardinal came out on top once again with a 25-15 set win, giving Stanford the 2-0 advantage in the match.
The Cougars fought hard to keep their season alive in the third set, and took an early 12-9 lead after a service ace by setter Lyndie Haddock-Eppich. However, Stanford came roaring back once again with a series of kills by Audriana Fitzmorris and Kathryn Plummer to go on a 9-1 run, and take an 18-13 set lead. Stanford went on to win the set (25-18) and the match, putting an end to BYU’s national championship hopes.
Jones-Perry led BYU in the last match of her college career wi
th eight kills and nine digs. Middle blocker Heather Gneiting, who was named national freshman of the year earlier this week, added six kills, two digs and a block for the Cougars. Haddock-Eppich, also playing in her last career match for BYU, chipped in 23 assists on the night.
Although not the ending to her career she would have hoped for, Haddock-Eppich commented on how thankful she is for her time spent at BYU. “I’m just grateful to be a part of BYU, I would have chosen no other school,” she said. “It’s just been such a fun ride this whole year.”
Coach Olmstead has a positive outlook for the program’s future. “This is something that the younger kids are going to have for their experience going forward, playing in a Final Four and playing well all season,” Olmstead said. “Looking forward, I think the future is bright.”
In a matchup between the previous two years’ champions, Stanford meets Nebraska in the championship game in Minneapolis on Saturday.