MINNEAPOLIS — BYU's magical 2018 season came to a shockingly brutal end in the semifinal round of the NCAA women's volleyball championship on Thursday. No. 1 Stanford was the opponent and the result was an unexpected 3-set sweep (25-15, 25-15, 25-18) in which the Cougars barely posed much of a challenge, as the score indicates.
The match worked in stark contrast to the rest of the season, with the Cougars unable to adjust to Stanford's front-court size and deft defense as the Cardinal either blocked or dug out much of what was thrown at it throughout the night.
Despite all of it, BYU coach Heather Olmstead came away not entirely disappointed with her team's performance, while giving Stanford its just due.
"Really proud of our team for just the fight they put up tonight," Olmstead said. "Congratulations to Stanford. They played a great match. Well deserving of advancing to the final. I want to tell them congrats, they're a great team."
A great team indeed, with just about everything firing on all cylinders.
The Cougars started things off well enough, taking a 10-6 lead in the first set, forcing Stanford into an early timeout to stem a Cougar 7-0 run and perhaps flip the momentum.
Whatever was said during that first timeout seemed to change the course of the match dramatically.
The Cardinal caught the Cougars at 12-12 and then inched ahead at 14-13 as the normally accurate Cougar passing all but flopped, leading to weak scoring opportunities which Stanford threw back time and again. A 10-0 run by Stanford put it firmly in control, up 22-13 late and then cruising to a surprisingly easy first set win.
"We couldn't pass," Olmstead said. "We kept trying to problem solve. I'm sure we'll look back and see maybe a couple things we could have done better. But we tried the best we could. We tried to put the people in the right spots that could pass the ball. We've been able to pass all season. We just kept waiting for our passing to get better."
The passing didn't get any better in the second set, with the Cardinal a 9-1 run midway through to build a commanding 19-11 lead and an eventual 25-15 set win.
The numbers bore out how lopsided the match was at that point with Stanford holding the Cougars to shocking -.026 hitting percentage to the Cardinal swinging at .281.
Was it nerves of suddenly playing away from the comfortable confines the Smith Fieldhouse? Stanford coach Kevin Hambly felt that may have had something to do with it.
"I think we all know that wasn't the team we saw throughout the year," Hambly said of BYU. "For whatever reason, nerves or whatever, their first time being in the Final Four, I think we had a huge advantage having been here the last couple of years. We have a lot of respect for that team."
BYU senior Roni Jones-Perry didn't agree with Cougars being set back by any nerves, however.
"I think coming out in the first set, we were super fired up. We were just playing free, having fun with each other," Jones-Perry said. "As the set went on, our energy was a little bit up and down. We talked about it. I'm proud of our team's fight, the way we stayed together on the court."
Things went a bit better for the Cougars in the third set, as they set out to a 7-4 early led and had it tied at 13-13 late until Stanford went on another devastating run, this one of the 5-0 variety to build an 18-13 lead late. The Cardinal then coasted to what proved to be a final set win to take the match.
Leading the way for Stanford was Kathryn Plummer, who scored a match-high 12 kills with Audriana Fitzmorris adding 11. BYU was led by Jones-Perry and her eight kills, albeit on a -.114 hitting percentage.36 comments on this story
Although disappointed by the ultimate result on Thursday, Cougar players came away overall pleased with what they accomplished this season and certainly for their careers.
"I'm just grateful to be a part of BYU," said BYU senior setter Lyndie Haddock-Eppich. "I would have chosen no other school. I invite no one else to choose any other school. This coaching staff is one in a million. They believe in us. Put together a season with us to finish out my career and Roni's career. It's just been such a fun ride this whole year."