Give Heather Olmstead a bag of money to go with those blessings.
She’s taking BYU women’s volleyball back to the Final Four on Thursday.
The atmosphere at BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse was magic over the weekend, loud as a yard full of trains. It was more than just electricity in the air. The atmosphere was smothering, intimidating, a kind of seventh player. It was something you’d like to capture in a bottle and save as an elixir of some sort for BYU athletics.
Take that bottle and sprinkle it everywhere needed, except outside the track and field offices, where they seem to hold their own. The school’s major money sports could use gallons of it.
When the women’s volleyball team beat Florida and swept Texas to advance to the NCAA Final Four this past weekend in Provo, Olmstead was at the center of it all.
This woman helped orchestrate all that energy. Her BYU team should have seen its season’s momentum retract a little when star McKenna Miller went out for the season with a knee injury. The team should have lost heart when Florida took a 5-0 lead in the first set, or when Texas went up 9-5 early and had the lead at the end of the final set. After all, both those teams were physically more dominant with the measuring stick.
But those were moments when Olmstead’s team simply rose up like champions. And that was a result of coaching, scheming, preparation and chemistry, all authored by Olmstead.
Olmstead works at a school with a proud sports tradition, but where men's basketball can’t win a conference title and football is fighting to win back crowds.
She’s lucky to have a place like the Smith Fieldhouse as a backdrop where fans like it furious and loud. BYU’s also lucky to have her. Whatever they’re paying her, it could be more for what’s been done. This is a school in dire need of proud moments in sports.
This week in Minneapolis, the Final Four is comprised of Illinois and Nebraska of the Big Ten, and Stanford, a Pac-12 school that is considered to be at the top of collegiate sports. All Power Five clubs, all with Power Five money.
Olmstead will be the only female head coach in this final. These days, that’s supposed to mean something big.
Nebraska’s John Cook makes a base salary of $600,000 a year. Stanford’s Kevin Hambly, a former BYU volleyball player, just got hired away from Illinois where the Fighting Illini replaced him with Chris Tamas and gave him a base salary of $300,000 to start.
I have no idea what Olmstead is making at BYU as a base salary or with bonus money, but I've studied BYU's private salary structure for Olympic sports and football head coaches and assistants. Considering Olmstead's team has been ranked No. 1 most of the season, whatever her compensation is, it would be nice to bump it up just for appreciation's sake. BYU is known for attracting coaches who want to be there for reasons other than money, but nobody’s going to turn down a raise with that obligatory pat on the back.
This week, Olmstead and her players will be going up against the greatest forces in Power Five athletics, the elite of the elite. They already slapped down some of the blue blood money and talent in dispatching Florida and Texas.14 comments on this story
With all due respect to her star players making all kinds of plays, led by Roni Jones-Perry, this is a Cougar team that isn’t beating up on competition because of elite athleticism. They are doing it by team play, outstanding skill development, chemistry, creation of confidence and getting every single player prepared for the moment they are called upon to give something.
When down to Texas and Florida, Olmstead called immediate timeouts and made adjustments, and things immediately turned 180 degrees en route to wins.
That takes a leader.
Give Olmstead something for that magic. It’s been a year where there could be much more of that on BYU's campus.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the semifinals and finals for the NCAA women's volleyball championships is taking place in Indianapolis. The Final Four is taking place in Minneapolis.