Purdue University
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Brigham Young University
Natalie Orr | Posted: 9 Dec 2021 | Updated: 2 May 2022
Natalie Orr

BYU falls to Purdue in Sweet 16 five-set heartbreaker to end season

BYU byu

PITTSBURGH, Penn – The BYU women’s volleyball team's season came to an end Thursday, falling to Purdue 3-2 (12-25, 25-16, 25-21,13-25, 16-18), in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament.

It was a back-and-forth match with shifts in momentum in each set. Purdue dominated the first set, BYU dominated the second set, the third set was tight, Purdue dominated the fourth set and then BYU led almost the entirety of the fifth set, holding four match points, but the Cougars were unable to finish things off. 

The Cougars end the season with a 30-2 record, a West Coast Conference Championship and the programs' 10th consecutive tournament run. Since head coach Heather Olmstead took over in 2015, this is the third time the Cougars broke the 30-win threshold.

Ultimately, the Boilermakers out-killed BYU’s 62-51 and had a .275 hitting percentage. Purdue had 15 blocks and held the Cougars to a .151 clip.

Offensively, Purdue’s Caitlyn Newtown led the match with 20 kills and a .138 clip, followed by BYU's graduate opposite hitter Kenzie Koerber’s 16 kills and .278 clip. Koerber notched her eighth and final double-double of the season, adding 12 digs to her stat line. 

Graduate middle blocker Kennedy Eschenberg led BYU with five block assists and one solo block. She also tallied seven kills and a .333 clip, the team’s highest. 

The Boilermakers started the match with a 4-1 lead after two kills and two BYU attack errors. Purdue’s Raven Colvin slammed her third kill of the set to extend Purdue’s lead to 7-2. Koerber battled back with BYU’s first kill of the set. 

A solo block by junior middle blocker Heather Gneiting closed the gap slightly to 9-5. Both Eschenberg and senior outside hitter Taylen Ballard-Nixon contributed kills, but Purdue strung together a 6-0 run to lead 19-9.

The Cougars tacked on two points thanks to service errors. Koerber and sophomore outside hitter Erin Livingston attempted to make a comeback with kills of their own, however, BYU’s 10th attack error of the set secured a 25-12 set win for Purdue.

Purdue picked up where it left off, racking up a 3-0 lead after two BYU attack errors and a kill by Jael Johnson. A block by Gneiting and junior setter Whitney Bower, accompanied by a Livingston kill, allowed BYU to catch up at 6-4. 

Three Purdue errors, combined with six total kills by Koerber, Ballard-Nixon and Gneiting, put BYU on a 10-0 run. The run allowed the Cougars to take their first lead of the match, eventually going up 15-8.

Purdue laid down two kills before the Cougars set off on a 4-0 run, thanks to kills by Koerber and Gneiting and two service aces by Ballard-Nixon. Livingston followed with back-to-back kills, bringing the score to set point at 24-12. 

The Boilermakers made a final effort with a 4-0 run, but ultimately, Eschenberg put up a final kill, allowing BYU to take the set win at 25-16. 

Purdue’s Newton laid down a quick kill to start the set. Bower followed with a kill and Eschenberg managed a solo block. Koerber put BYU in the lead after her kill at 3-2. The Cougars maintained a slight lead thanks to a kill and ace by Ballard-Nixon. A kill by Livingston finished a 5-0 run, giving BYU a 12-6 advantage.

From here, the teams traded kills, including kills by Gneiting, Bower, Eschenberg and Ballard-Nixon. After three Purdue service aces, BYU held just a one point lead at 16-15. This set the Cougars on fire, notching four kills and Ballard-Nixon’s fifth service ace of the match. The five aces gave Ballard-Nixon’s new career-high, previously putting up four aces against Utah Valley earlier this season. 

Koerber and Gneiting laid down kills in the final minutes of the set, securing BYU’s second set win at 25-21.

Purdue started the fourth match with a fight, quickly racking up a 6-0 lead after three kills by Newton, upping her kill count to 12. Two errors by the Boilermakers put BYU on the board. However, two more back-to-back kills by Newton extended Purdue’s lead to 9-2.

Koerber added four kills, but the team still trailed 17-9. Ultimately, the Boilermakers racked up 17 kills, compared to BYU’s nine. This allowed the team to tie the match at 2-2, earning a 25-13 set win. 

BYU started the fifth and final match strong, leading 5-1 after kills from Livingston, Eschenberg and Koerber. Two BYU attack errors and a Purdue kill brought the score to 5-4. Two BYU attack errors tied the opponents at 7-7.

Ballard-Nixon laid down a needed kill, but Newton followed up with her 18th kill. A service error by the Boilermakers and kills by Livingston and Eschenberg upped BYU’s lead to 11-9.

Two more Purdue errors and a kill by Koerber brought BYU to match point at 14-11. However, two aces by Purdue’s Jena Otec helped tie the match at 14-14. Both Koerber and Newton battled back with kills, tying the set again at 15-15 and 16-16.

A final kill by Newton and a game-ending BYU attack error solidified a 3-2 win for the Boilermakers at 18-16.


BYU head coach Heather Olmstead’s opening statement

"Congratulations to Purdue on advancing. I’m proud of our team for our fight. I thought our serving helped us stay in the match. I’m super disappointed for this group and for our seniors. There’s not much more that you could ask for, but we just couldn’t finish it. That was not our best volleyball. It was probably our worst offensive match of the year. Yet, we still had an opportunity to win. That's what is so painful. We wanted to be as good as we could, even on our worst day."

Olmstead on turning the game around after the first set

"We got our serve going, our blocks going and they started playing a little bit worse. It just ebbed and flowed as volleyball does. Our girls hung in there. It took us a while to get going. We figured it out in the second and third set and lost our focus again in the fourth set."

Olmstead on having Kenzie Koerber join the team for her final season

"She has brought a lot of joy. She is so grateful. It makes us all appreciate what we have even more. You can see her competitive spirit and that she cares. She did everything in her power to get us here. I’m grateful that we had the chance to have her in our program and be influenced by her and her leadership."

Graduate opposite hitter Kenzie Koerber on her final match 

"I didn’t want this to be my last game of my college career. It stings and it is tough. This year has been a blessing and I’m grateful for the experiences that I have had with these girls and coaches. It hurts and it's frustrating. This has been the best year of my college career and I couldn't be more grateful for it."

Graduate middle blocker Kennedy Eschenberg on her final match

"This isn’t the end we were looking for. It has been the best time of my life. I’m grateful for the girls and the coaches and I’m proud of this team."


Natalie Orr | Posted: 6 Dec 2021 | Updated: 2 May 2022
Natalie Orr

No. 11 Seed BYU travels to face No. 6 Seed Purdue in NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinals


PROVO, Utah – No. 11 seed BYU women's volleyball will play No. 6 seed Purdue in the NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament Regional Semifinals on Thursday, Dec. 9 in the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The match between the Cougars and Boilermakers will begin at 11 a.m. EST. BYU earned its ninth Sweet 16 appearance in 10 seasons after overpowering both Boise State (3-0) and Utah (3-1) in the Smith Fieldhouse last weekend. 

In program history, the teams have only faced each other on five occasions. The last time the teams battled was during head coach Heather Olmstead’s first season as head coach, in 2015. In that match, BYU swept Purdue.

Thursday's match can be viewed live via ESPNU. 

No. 11 Seed Brigham Young University Cougars (30-1, 18-0 West Coast Conference)

  • The Cougars are on a 23-match winning streak
  • Since Olmstead took over in 2015, this is the third time the Cougars broke the 30-win threshold
  • The WCC honored Olmstead as Coach of the Year, graduate opposite hitter Kenzie Koerber as Player of the Year and junior setter Whitney Bower as Setter of the Year. 
  • Senior outside hitter Taylen Ballard-Nixon, graduate middle blocker Kennedy Eschenberg,  junior middle blocker Heather Gneiting, sophomore outside hitter Erin Livingston and sophomore libero Madi Allen all received All-WCC honors
  • Graduate middle blocker Kennedy Eschenberg is a Senior CLASS Award finalist 
  • Junior middle blocker Heather Gneiting ranks No. 4 in the NCAA for hitting percentage, holding a .445 clip
  • BYU currently ranks No. 1 in the NCAA in opponent hitting percentage (.120), No. 2 in match winning percentage (.968),  No. 3 in hitting percentage (.338), No. 9 in kills per set (14.23) and No. 18 in assists per set (12.92). BYU leads the WCC in all these categories.

No. 6 Seed Purdue University Boilermakers (25-6, 15-5 Big Ten Conference)

  • Purdue topped both Illinois State (3-0) and Dayton (3-2) in the First and Second Round of the NCAA Tournament
  • Purdue’s position as the No. 6 seed is the program's highest since 2011
  • The Boilermakers closed out the regular-season tied for third in the Big Ten standings, its best since 2011
  • This is Purdue’s seventh consecutive and 23rd overall postseason appearance
  • Head coach Dave Shondell was named Big Ten Coach of the Year for the second time of his career
  • Five athletes received conference honors. Hayley Bush, Grace Cleveland and Caitlyn Newton were named to the All-Big Ten First Team. Jena Otec earned All-Big Ten Second Team and Raven Colvin earned All-Freshman team. 
  • Purdue ranks No. 2 in the NCAA in team total blocks (349.5), No. 3 in blocks per set (2.99) and No. 21 in match-winning percentage (.806).



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Masks are required for all those in attendance, regardless of vaccination status.