OMAHA, Neb. — A magical season for BYU women's volleyball came to an end on Friday as the No. 12-seed Cougars fell 3-1 (25-23, 25-21, 22-25, 25-12) to No. 5-seed Oregon in the Round of 16 at the 2012 NCAA tournament.
BYU finishes the season at 28-4 overall, the most victories for a Cougar team since 1999. This season also marked BYU's first conference title since 2005 and first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2007. The 2012 squad includes the West Coast Conference Coach of the Year (Shawn Olmstead), Player of the Year (Jennifer Hamson), Freshman of the Year (Alexa Gray) and Defensive Player of the Year (Nicole Warner).
"When I got this job, I told the girls, 'Buckle up. Hold on. We're going to turn this thing around.' Like I've said a thousand times, I felt we were one loss away from being in the tournament last year," Olmstead said. "This year we made it, and being able to win some matches is a positive that these girls have to cling to moving forward. There are a lot of positives."
Hamson led the way for the Cougars Friday night with 18 kills on .364 hitting while Gray added eight, and Warner and Kathryn LeCheminant tallied seven apiece. Ciara Parker led BYU with 15 digs while Heather Hannemann (12), Jessica Jardine (10) and Tia Withers (10) were also in double figures. Hannemann dished out 42 assists and the Cougars hit .259 as a team. Warner led the Cougars with seven blocks.
"Hats off to Oregon, definitely," Olmstead said. "They did an outstanding job this season. I felt they did a great job tonight. They got us definitely out of system, out of our style of play. That's a credit to them, their coaching staff and their athletes for executing the game plan really nicely. I felt those moments where they got us out of wack really got us in the end."
Despite hitting .500 and getting six kills from Hamson, BYU fell 25-23 to Oregon in the first set. The Cougars led for much of the set and by as many as three at 18-15 following a block by Warner and Hannemann. With BYU leading 21-19, Oregon tallied back-to-back kills to tie the score at 21-all. After Hamson gave the Cougars the lead at 22-21, Alaina Bergsma sandwiched a Katherine Fischer ace with two kills to set up Oregon's first set point at 24-22. Kimberly Dahl extended the set one more point with a kill but Liz Brenner tallied a kill to claim the set for the Ducks at 25-23.
The second set was all Oregon early as the Ducks built a 6-3 lead with two blocks, two kills and two aces. After two more Bergsma kills gave Oregon a 10-7 lead, BYU responded with a 9-2 run to take a four-point lead at 16-12. Warner started the rally with a kill and then teamed up with Hamson for a block to close the gap to one at 10-9. Hamson had two more kills and Warner and LeCheminant added kills of their own to polish off the run. Following an Oregon timeout, the Ducks went on an 8-1 run to take the lead and seize control. Gray added two more kills but it was not enough as Oregon ended the set on a Bergsma kill for the 25-21 victory.
Hamson and the Cougars stayed alive with a hard-fought win in the third set, 25-22. BYU gained some separation at 12-9 with a 3-0 run that included a Gray-Warner block and a Hamson kill. The Cougars looked to win the set going away as they opened a 19-12 lead on a 7-1 run that included kills from four different players and an ace by Withers. Oregon would not go quietly, however, answering BYU with an 8-2 run to get within one at 21-20. Gray settled the Cougars down with a kill and then Hamson had kills on BYU's last three points.
Oregon controlled the fourth set from the start, jumping out to a 9-2 lead. Back-to-back kills by LeCheminant pulled BYU within five at 11-6 but the Ducks proved too strong, closing the set with an 8-1 run to win 25-12 and take the match.