No. 14 BYU women’s volleyball will move on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after defeating New Mexico State (25-7, 25-23, 25-19) in its eighth-straight NCAA tournament appearance. The team has 22–straight wins at home tournament games in the last 25 years.
“I think a big part of that first set run was us getting in their face early,” head coach Heather Olmstead said. “I think we did do a lot of things well in that first set defensively, obviously behind Whitney’s serve, and Kennedy dropped in on a couple of balls, and I think it rattled them a little bit, and it was good for us, and we kept pushing forward.”
The teams swapped points at the start off the game. Kennedy Eschenberg had BYU’s first kill of the match, and the Cougars began to pull ahead before Whitney Bower tallied an ace (11-6). McKenna Miller followed the ace with a kill, then Eschenberg added two more to give BYU a 10-point lead (16-6). BYU continued adding to its lead, and New Mexico only gained one more point during the first set (25-7). BYU finished the set with a .520 hitting percentage and kept New Mexico at a -.083 hitting percentage.
Mary Lake served an ace to start the second set, then the teams swapped points again (4-4). Miller earned three aces, Eschenberg earned a block and BYU regained the lead (10-8). Kate Grimmer earned another kill, but New Mexico tied up the score midway through the set (15-15). A kill from Miller put BYU ahead once again, and the team’s lead continued to grow with two block assists from Grimmer and Eschenberg (17-14). Miller, Eschenberg and Grimmer each earned kills (20-15) before New Mexico brought the score back even (21-21). A kill and an ace from Grimmer put BYU in the lead again (23-21), and Miller finished off the set with her ninth kill of the night (25-23).
Grimmer and Miller each earned a kill to start what would be the third and final set, then Miller served an ace to tie the score (3-3). The Aggies pulled ahead (7-5) before BYU earned consecutive points under Taylen Ballard-Nixon’s serve, still leaving the Aggies with a two-point lead (9-7). Gneiting and Bower each earned a kill, and Miller earned two, then Bower’s third ace of the night tied the score (12-12). Another Miller kill put BYU in the lead (13-12).
“I definitely get more excited when McKenna does something cool than when I do because she’s awesome,” Lake said. “It’s a game-changer, and that pancake was huge, and it was a ball she wasn’t supposed to get up, and I was just so proud and excited for our team”
Grimmer and Ballard-Nixon each added a kill near the end of the final set (18-13). The Cougars continued to grow their lead with two Miller aces in a row (20-14) before Gneiting sealed the win for BYU with another kill (25-19)
Miller finished the night with 13 kills and three aces. Bower finished with 31 assists, seven digs and three aces. Grimmer had a .667 hitting percentage and 10 aces.
BYU will face the University of Utah in the second round of the NCAA Division I women’s volleyball tournament, Saturday, Dec. 7.