No. 14 BYU women’s volleyball shakes off slow start to sweep Santa Clara

BYU women’s volleyball head coach Heather Olmstead didn’t flinch when her team got off to a slow start against the scrappy Santa Clara Broncos.

“Once we cleaned things up and we started getting kills and hitting in the court, things started to shift for us and get a little bit better,” she said.

Did it ever.

Erin Livingston had 16 of BYU’s 50 team kills, libero Aria McComber turned in a spectacular defensive performance with 13 of the 44 Cougar digs, and the no. 14 BYU women’s volleyball team cleaned up nicely to rout Santa Clara in straight sets (25-13, 25-13, 25-12) before a “Pink-Out” crowd of 3,120 at the Smith Fieldhouse on a Thursday night dedicated to breast cancer awareness.

Sophomore outside hitter Elyse Stowell, who earned her third start this season in finishing with six kills, said no one was fazed by the tough start. “Between every point, we look each other in the eye and we see confidence,” Stowell said. “When we see confidence, we know we’ve got the next one.”

BYU (11-3, 4-0) thus used that confidence to answer Santa Clara’s (6-10, 2-2) tough serving and defense with some of their own. After starting the match down 5-1, serving specialist Alyssa Montoya woke up the Cougars with their first ace, one of seven service aces in the set.

Olmstead also decided to shake up the lineup, as normal starting senior libero Kelsey Knudsen entered off the bench midway through the first set to help out McComber, who wore the navy shirt as the starting libero.

Those changes ignited the team as the Cougars closed the first set on a 9-0 run, turning a three-point game into a 12-point victory. “That’s a good thing to see for our team, that we can make those changes and stay focused,” Olmstead stated.

She especially gave McComber a nod for her efforts defensively, as she kept several rallies alive with some sliding saves, part of the 15 digs BYU had in the first set. “She was good energy and she read the attacks well,” she said.

The second set was more of the same. Livingston continued her torrid pace, logging five more kills on eight errorless swings in the set, and BYU’s defense stepped up with 14 more digs.

“I’m proud of our defense behind our block,” Olmstead said. “Although we didn’t get a ton of blocks [only 3.5], we still played scrappy defense, and I’m proud of our team for that.”

The Cougars only committed two hitting errors in the second set, in stark contrast to the first, where they committed six. The Broncos simply had no answers as they trailed by as many as ten, allowing BYU to hit .600 for the second set at one point.

Stowell and Olmstead credited that to senior setter Whitney Bower, who stuffed the stat sheet with 37 of BYU’s 47 total assists, three of the nine total service aces, and eight digs. And as always, she added five of her signature dump shot kills on six errorless attempts.

“She’s just so consistent, and she’s always there with the energy we need,” Stowell said about Bower, whom she claimed was the best setter she’s ever played with. “You can always trust her to get you in rhythm and get kills.”

Bower credited the improved passing that allowed her to stay in rhythm. “Once the passing picked up, we got a little momentum, a little rhythm going,” Bower explained. “It really allowed me to disperse the ball wherever I wanted to.”

The Cougars finished the deal in the third set. Thursday’s match marked the first time this season BYU had 50 kills and 40 digs in a single match as a team. In both the second and third sets, BYU sided out at an 84% clip, and had double the assists and kills of the Broncos (50-19 in kills, 47-18 in assists). All told, the Cougars scored 62.5 total natural points to just 26 for Santa Clara.

BYU also hit .438 for the match to Santa Clara’s .098.

“We always talk about how this is a perfect opportunity for us to play the best we can,” Stowell explained. “Playing BYU volleyball with BYU energy, we always talk about that.”

Olmstead and the players hope they can use this performance–by far their most dominant and complete one of the year–to springboard them into the meat of their WCC schedule, which includes the first of two matches against no. 4 San Diego later this month.

“A lot of times our minds can drift and think about what San Diego is doing,” Bower stated. “It’s all about San Francisco and how we can carry this performance over to Saturday.”

That performance will be seen Saturday at 1:00 p.m., which Olmstead said is the most important match–which is the next one her team plays. “We really want to carry over this performance, since now we know we can do this at home and on the road,” she said. “We don’t want to see this effort go to waste.”

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