After sweeping the first two rounds, the No. 13 seed BYU women’s volleyball team will look to continue their dominance in the NCAA Tournament this week. The Cougars will travel to Lexington, Kentucky to take on the No. 4 seed Kentucky Wildcats in their sixth-straight Sweet 16 appearance.
“We’re super excited,” BYU head coach Heather Olmstead said. “We’ve worked hard all year to get to this point, and you never know in the NCAA Tournament — you play a lot of good teams. So we’re excited that we get another match together. We’re excited that we get practices this week knowing only 16 teams were practicing. We’re looking forward to getting on the road and getting in Kentucky’s gym. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to compete against a good Kentucky team.”
Both BYU and Kentucky are on a nine-game winning streak. The Wildcats swept East Tennessee State in the tournament’s first round (25–19, 25–20, 25–21) and then needed five sets to beat Western Kentucky in the second round (16–25, 22–25, 25–19, 25–21, 15–12), while the Cougars first swept American (25–11, 25–17, 25–16) before sweeping Oregon in the second round (25–20, 25–21, 25–19) to advance. Although BYU has yet to lose a set, there is one major area the team is looking to improve. In both tournament matches combined, the Cougars have only recorded eight blocks compared to their opponents 17.
“We’ve worked hard all year to get to this point, and you never know in the NCAA Tournament — you play a lot of good teams. So we’re excited that we get another match together. — Heather Olmstead, BYU coach
“We’d like to block a little bit better this weekend,” Olmstead said. “We’ve talked about that and worked on that the past few days. I think we’ve got to shorten some things up with our eye work and our hand work these next few days. We’re anxious to get back in the gym Thursday in Kentucky and get in some more blocking.”
Better blocking is only one thing on the minds of the Cougars. The team is also trying to prepare for a strong all-around opponent. The Wildcats hold the edge offensively with 15 kills per set compared to BYU’s 13.7 per set. While the Cougars are hitting a .274 clip and holding opponents to just a .164 clip, Kentucky is hitting a .321 clip and holding opponents to a .207 clip.
“Offensively, I think (hitting) is one of their strengths,” Olmstead said. “They’re hitting for high numbers and they’ve got some good, big, physical and tall athletes, and they’re doing a good job there. Defensively as well, they’re holding their opponents to a low clip, and so we’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to offensively score and defensively hold them.”
Both teams are having stellar seasons. The Wildcats are 28–3 on the year and finished in a tie for first place in the SEC with a 17–1 conference record. The Cougars are 30–2 this season and also had a 17–1 league record to take first place in the West Coast Conference. Overall, in the latest AVCA poll, Kentucky is ranked No. 6, just ahead of BYU at No. 7.
The matchup is sure to be a tight one, but the Sweet 16 hasn’t been very sweet for the Cougars as they have been knocked out of the tournament at this point each of their five previous appearances with one exception — the Cougars reached the 2014 NCAA title match. The team will try to end that streak and take one step closer to winning it all.
The Sweet 16 matchup between BYU and Kentucky is set for Friday, Dec. 8 at 12 p.m. EST in Kentucky. The game will be televised live on ESPNU. Friday’s winner will advance to the regional finals and will compete against the winner between No. 5 Nebraska and Colorado on Saturday.