Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
OMAHA, Neb. — The BYU women’s volleyball team left Provo confident and downright giddy after dispatching both New Mexico State and Oklahoma in straight sets. The team is peaking and provided almost flawless play through two rounds of the NCAA tournament. It will now take on No. 5-seeded Oregon in the round of sixteen Friday, 3 p.m. MST.
The No. 12-seeded Cougars are headlined by a strong frontline that includes two-sport sensation Jennifer Hamson and senior blocker Nicole Warner. The 6-foot-7 Hamson was recently named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year and leads the team in kills with 440 on the year. The 6-foot-2 Warner was named to the All-Pacific Region First Team and leads the team with 195 blocks on the year.
Both players left an indelible impression on Oklahoma coach Santiago Restrepo, who believes BYU compares favorably to Big-12 champion and No. 3-seeded Texas.
“(BYU) has great athletes all across the board,” Restrepo said. “They’re very talented and very well-coached. (Texas) is very tall and physical and BYU is very tall and physical my hat‘s off to BYU and best of luck to them in the Sweet 16.”
It takes more than two players to lead a team into the Sweet Sixteen, and BYU has received key contributions across the board. Senior setter Heather Hannemann and libero Tia Withers have been rocks of consistency while freshmen such as Alexa Gray and Kimberly Dahl have stepped up big.
“We have a bunch of good parts and we have good depth,” said BYU coach Shawn Olmstead. “(The players) understand their role and they accept it wherever it is right now and I think that is what you need to have on great teams.”
Oregon should pose a big challenge and should match up far better against BYU's imposing frontline than both the Aggies and Sooners. The Ducks lead the nation in kills per set average and finished second to Stanford in a tough Pac-12 conference.
"We look fairly similar if you look at the records. We're 28-3 and they're 27-4, so their one more loss becomes a win and we're the same," Olmstead said. "They've been very battle tested in the Pac-12. I believe that's a great volleyball conference."
Regardless of the matchup, the Cougars believe they can play with anyone.
"We want to see how far we can take this and our coach says to ride it as far as you can, so we're going to ride this," Hannemann said. "I think we can go as far as we want."
The winner of tonight's match will advance to the Elite Eight and take on the winner of No. 4 Nebraska and No. 13 Washington, 4:30 p.m. MST on Saturday.
Friday's game will be broadcast on ESPN3.
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