BYU Advances to Elite Eight
PROVO, Utah – Five players had eight kills or more and BYU held Florida to a .159 hitting percentage as the Cougars defeated Florida in four sets (23-25, 25-13, 25-17, 25-19) on Friday in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
BYU (30-1) will now make its 11th appearance in the Elite Eight of the tourney and the first since 2014 when the Cougars finished national runners-up in the NCAA Championships.
"I'm so proud of this team," BYU head coach Heather Olmstead said. "They battled so hard tonight and played within themselves. The crowd was electric and we thank them for showing up. We are looking forward to keeping this journey going and playing tomorrow."
To view BYU Photo's photo essay on the match, click here.
Senior Roni Jones-Perry had a match-high 17 kills with nine digs, two aces and two blocks. Sophomore Kennedy Eschenberg contributed 11 kills on a .526 hitting percentage while also contributing seven blocks.
Freshmen Madelyn Robinson and Heather Gneiting notched 10 and eight kills, respectively, with Gneiting adding seven blocks. Senior Lacy Haddock also put down eight kills with six blocks to round out a strong offensive effort.
Senior Lyndie Haddock-Eppich contributed 44 assists and 10 digs while senior Sydnie Martindale and junior Mary Lake provided crucial defense with 10 digs apiece. The Cougars were also able to keep two Florida powerhouses at bay, limiting Rachael Kramer and Taelor Kellum to -.083 and -.167 hitting percentages, respectively, after the pair came into the match hitting above .300 on the season.
Florida (26-7) came out strong in the first set, taking a 5-0 lead that included two Gator kills. BYU fought back within one point of Florida’s lead, 9-8, off of a long rally ending in a Gator error. A dump kill by Haddock-Eppich and a block by Eschenberg and Jones-Perry got the team energized and tied the game up 15-15. However, the Cougars were unable to gain the lead, and Florida took the set, 25-23, off a Gator kill.
BYU beat Florida to the punch and took the first lead of the second set, 2-0, off of a Jones-Perry kill. The Cougars followed this with a 5-2 run, putting the score at 10-6, and forced a Florida timeout. A block by Haddock and Eschenberg and kills by Robinson and Haddock added to a BYU 8-1 run, putting the score at 19-10. BYU maintained the lead and took the second set, 25-13, notching three more kills.
A kill by Eschenberg followed by her shared block with Haddock put the Cougars up, 7-3. Kills by Robinson and Gneiting paired with a Haddock-Eppich and Gneiting block ultimately led to another Cougar set win, 25-17.
BYU again took an early lead with Jones-Perry contributing two kills and an ace to give the Cougars an 8-5 edge. BYU kept at least a two-point lead throughout the middle of the set, and a second Jones-Perry ace forced Florida to take a timeout at 18-12. BYU maintained the lead for the rest of the set and claimed the match, 25-19, with kills by Eschenberg and Haddock and a block by Haddock and Gneiting.
The Cougars return to the court against No. 5 seed Texas on Saturday, Dec. 8, at 6 p.m. MT in the Smith Fieldhouse. The game will be shown live on ESPNU with the winner advancing to the Final Four to be held in Minneapolis next week.
No. 4 Cougars to Host NCAA Regional
PROVO, Utah - No. 4 BYU welcomes No. 5 Texas, Florida and Michigan to the Smith Fieldhouse starting Friday, Dec. 7.
The Cougars (29-1) will play Florida (26-6) on Friday at 4:30 p.m. MT on ESPN3 while Texas (22-4) and Michigan (24-9) will face off earlier in the day at 2 p.m. MT on ESPNU. The winners of each match will then compete the following day at 6 p.m. MT on ESPNU.
Last weekend, BYU defeated Stony Brook and rival Utah in the first two rounds of the tourney to advance to the program's seventh-straight Sweet 16.
This year, however, is unique for BYU – the Cougars are hosting an NCAA Regional for the first time since 1986. BYU is 15-0 at home this season and have won 22 straight dating back to last season; in the NCAA Tournament, BYU has won 19-straight matches dating back to 1994 and are 28-6 overall at home.
BYU is No. 1 in the nation in hitting percentage (.319), No. 2 in opponent hitting percentage (.136) and No. 5 in blocks per set (2.94). The Cougars will face a Florida team that ranks No. 9 in opponent hitting percentage (.156), No. 10 in blocks per set (2.84) and No. 24 in hitting percentage (.259).
Ranked No. 1 for 11-straight weeks in the regular season, the Cougars recently swept the AVCA Region awards, with Roni Jones-Perry winning Player of the Year, Heather Gneiting taking Freshman of the Year and Heather Olmstead claiming Coach of the Year. A program-record six players were named All-Region as well.
The winner of Saturday's match will advance to the NCAA Final Four in Minneapolis on Dec. 13 and 15.