The BYU women's volleyball team celebrates its second-round win over Utah in the NCAA Tournament. (Addie Blacker)

BYU women’s volleyball advances to Sweet 16 in four-set win over Utah

“You solve one problem and you solve the next one and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home,” or in the case of the BYU women’s volleyball team, you get to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

The ability to problem-solve not only applied to Matt Damon’s survival in “The Martian,” but is also an integral part of how BYU women’s volleyball operates and ended up winning in four sets against the University of Utah on Saturday in the Smith Fieldhouse.

“We’re just really good at problem-solving,” senior Kenzie Koerber said of her team. “We just continued to do what we do best.”

What was the problem that needed solving? Well, the Cougars lost a set in the Smith Fieldhouse for just the fourth time this season, falling 25-17 to the Utes in the opening period, and struggling to get anything going on offense against a prepared Utah team.

Utah dominated most of the first set, going up 15-9, before BYU was able to bring it back within three, 16-13. The comeback didn’t last long, however, as the Utes went up one set to none on the Cougars’ home court.

Taylen Ballard-Nixon and Koerber both had three kills each in the first set, but the Cougars hit just .100 as a team.

Koerber admitted that it wasn’t her best night offensively, finishing with six kills and six errors, but she and the rest of the Cougars decided to bring it on defense and find creative ways to score, feeding BYU’s tournament breakout star so far, Erin Livingston, who finished with a team-high 13 kills.

Kenzie Koerber digs against Utah in the Smith Fieldhouse. (Addie Blacker)

Ballard-Nixon got a solo block in the second set to give BYU the lead, 16-15, in what proved to be a turning point for the Cougars and their dominant defense. Both coaches used their challenges over the next few possessions, and BYU’s blocks remained strong to take a 21-17 lead. The Cougars held on to win the second set 25-22, tying the match at 1-1.

“We keep fighting,” head coach Heather Olmstead said. “We never give up.”

BYU led for most of the third and fourth sets, with a couple of late surges from the Utes to make things interesting in each period. The Cougars went on to win the both of last two sets 25-23 to complete the four-set win, fending off the Utah comeback attempts with 11.5 blocks on the night, including seven from Heather Gneiting. Libero Madi Allen aided the defensive effort with 10 digs and Koerber added nine of her own, adapting to the game and assisting in ways other than her normal deadly spikes.

“We just tried to focus on ourselves and play BYU volleyball and play in the moment,” Kennedy Eschenberg said of how the Cougars were able to hang on to win despite the Utah runs.

BYU now heads to Pittsburgh to play in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament next week.

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