Let’s dance: No. 7 seed BYU women’s volleyball to play new face and possibly old foe in NCAA tournament

They didn’t say this would be easy.

BYU women’s volleyball coach Heather Olmstead didn’t want it to be that way. She wants her team to play like it was trailing and execute at the highest level.

Now BYU will get that chance against some of the best teams in the nation.

The No. 18 Cougars (21-6, 15-3), as the runners-up in the West Coast Conference, received the No. 7 seed in the Wisconsin bracket of the 2022 NCAA women’s volleyball tournament. The Cougars will face the James Madison Dukes (24-4, 15-1), who won both the regular season and tournament championships in the Sun Belt Conference.

The match will take place at 4:00 p.m. EST on Friday. Should the Cougars advance, their second-round match will be at 7:00 p.m. EST Saturday.

The winner of the BYU/JMU match will advance to face either the Patriot League champion Colgate Raiders or the No. 2 seed Pitt Panthers, who will host at least the first weekend in the Steel City.

Ironically, the Panthers also played against the Cougars in the championship of the Nike Invitational on Sept. 3, handing BYU one of its only two home losses this season.

“We’re super excited to be in the NCAA tournament,” Olmstead said. “I think our team has done a great job this season, and I’m proud of the work they’ve done to get to this point, especially our resiliency.”

That resiliency will be tested, as some of the traditional powers in women’s volleyball loom in BYU’s bracket. In addition to the No. 2 seed Panthers, the Big Ten’s Wisconsin Badgers head the pack, along with another traditional power in Penn State and SEC co-champion Florida, who BYU beat to reach the Final Four in 2018.

However, Olmstead feels confident her team is playing her best volleyball at the right time, which is aided by the return of starting setter Whitney Bower to the lineup last Tuesday against San Diego after missing the last seven matches with a knee injury.

It’ll be the same approach the team has embraced all season that will guide them: one match at a time. “I know [JMU] is a good team, and they have good coaches,” Olmstead said.

Junior outside Erin Livingston explained she is excited for the challenge. “This tournament has a ton of good teams in it. We’re happy to be one of them, and we’re ready to go.”

Senior middle blocker Heather Gneiting, who is one of two remaining players from the team that went to the Final Four in 2018, echoed the excitement. “Our team has been putting in the work this whole season. We’re ready to take it one game at a time and are just grateful for the opportunity to play every day.”

The NCAA women’s volleyball tournament has a new format this year, where the top eight seeds in each quadrant of the bracket are seeded, while the top 16 teams overall are seeded and earn hosting rights for the first weekend of the tourney. The hosts for the regional semifinals and finals will be the highest seeds remaining in each bracket, with the winners advancing to the Final Four in Omaha.

The top four overall seeds went to Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Louisville, with the Longhorns — a future conference foe for the Cougars — earning the No. 1 overall seed. The WCC sent four teams to the NCAA tournament, with regular season champion San Diego earning the No. 2 seed in the Stanford bracket. Pepperdine joins the Toreros in that bracket after finishing fourth in the WCC and sitting on the bubble, and LMU was drawn into the Louisville bracket to face Pac-12 power and No. 3 seed Oregon in the first round.

BYU has now officially made the last 11 NCAA tournaments, totaling 35 in program history. In all of Olmstead’s seasons, the Cougars have finished either as WCC champions or runners-up.

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