Taylen Ballard-Nixon goes up for a hit in BYU’s five-set thriller over LMU on Oct. 1, 2019. (Hannah Miner)

No. 9 BYU volleyball beat LMU (25-22, 25-20, 21-25, 22-25, 15-7) in an intense five-set match. Decked out in pink, the Cougars prepared to face the team that ended their 29-game winning streak in the 2018 season. After a quick warm-up, the players changed into their uniforms and announced their return with a loud cheer. 

Both teams wore pink bows in their hair in recognition of breast cancer awareness month, and instead of the typical royal blue and white, BYU fans filled the stands with pink as they roared to greet the Cougars to the court.

“Loved the crowd. Loved the environment. (We are) so happy that people came out to support our pink match and awareness for breast cancer, so we’re grateful for the crowd and that everybody stayed for the match,” head coach Heather Olmstead said.

The first point of the match went to the Cougars, but then the two teams swapped points until BYU pulled ahead with kills from Heather Gneiting and Madelyn Robinson (7-3). The Cougars remained ahead, but not without the Lions closing in (11-10). BYU again led by a few points after a dig from Whitney Bower that led to two kills from Robinson (14-10).

BYU gained points slowly as LMU drew closer, but a tip from Bower caught the Lions off guard, and the Cougars gained another point (20-17). The back-and-forth continued until a kill by McKenna Miller gave BYU the set (25-22). BYU finished the first set with a .533 hitting percentage.

LMU earned the first point of the second set before BYU claimed the next two (2-1). The teams took turns scoring until a block from Kennedy Eschenberg and another from Miller helped BYU gain the lead (10-8).

BYU began to pick up the pace with three kills — Robinson, Bower and Kate Grimmer each with one apiece (17-13). Miller contributed two kills, and Robinson added a block to bring the score to 23-17. BYU prepared for the set point after a kill from Grimmer (24-20), and another kill by Grimmer won BYU the second set (25-20). BYU ended the second set with 17 digs and 28 kills. 

BYU volleyball star Mary Lake records a dig against LMU. Lake recently returned home from a summer venture with USA volleyball. (Hannah Miner)

BYU’s scoring came a little slower during the third set. LMU quickly took the lead (3-9), but the Cougars seemed recharged after a kill from Gneiting, and the Cougars began to chase close the gap (9-13). A block from Robinson brought the score up to 10-15, but LMU maintained the lead (13-18). After a timeout, BYU evened the score (19-19), but the Lions retook the lead and didn’t look back, winning the third set (21-25).

BYU again fell behind early in the first set (2-4), but a kill from Gneiting and a tip from Bower brought the score even (7-7). LMU scored quickly, which led to a BYU timeout (8-11), and after the timeout, BYU gained three points in a row, topped off with a kill by Grimmer (11-11).

The teams swapped points until the score was even at 14-14. During Tayler Tausinga’s serve, BYU took the lead by two (16-14), and another tip by Bower widened the lead (17-15). The Lions tied the score up again (17-17), but a kill from Miller and an ace from Bower gave BYU a three-point lead (20-17). Despite this, the Cougars couldn’t hold on, and LMU again fought back and won the set (22-25).

“I thought we were resilient the whole match. I thought even in sets three and four when we weren’t playing super well, we were still right there in it. We came back,” Olmstead said.

BYU and LMU swapped points at the beginning of the fifth set. Gneiting and Bower each contributed a kill, and Miller added two of her own, bringing the score even (6-6). Miller said that during a timeout, the Cougars decided to focus on winning each point instead of the game. 

“We decided we were going to have micro-goals and just be strong out of the gate and be the first to five and the first to 10,” Miller said. “Taking it point by point and doing the best we can and not focusing on winning or losing.”

Morgan Bower tips the ball over a pair of LMU blockers during BYU’s win in the Smith Fieldhouse on Oct. 1. (Hannah Miner)

Their playing turned around, and Bower served her third ace of the game (8-6). Energized by her serve, BYU gained six points in a row, one of which came from an intense rally that ended in a block from Robinson (12-6). BYU continued to play strong until they won the final set (15-7) and the match. 

Bower ended the night with four aces and Grimmer had six blocks. Four of BYU’s players finished with kills in the double digits. Miller led with 14, followed Gneiting with 12, Robinson with 11 and Grimmer with 10.

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