MINNEAPOLIS — The BYU women's volleyball 2018 season ended abruptly and in rather shocking fashion with a straight-set loss to Stanford in the NCAA tournament semifinal round. But with a tradition established and a good stable of talent returning for next season, it won't serve as much of a surprise should the Cougars make another deep run in the tournament in 2019.
Since 2012 the Cougars have become fixtures in the NCAA tournament, advancing to at least the round of sixteen seven years in a row now. It's very reasonable to expect similar runs moving forward, as a result, although making it back to the Final Four may be a tough haul, considering what the team has to replace.
First and foremost are the two first-team All-Americans, Roni Jones-Perry and Lyndie Haddock-Eppich.
Jones-Perry finished No. 4 in the nation in both kills and points per set and No. 10 on BYU’s career kills list at 1,465 while Haddock-Eppich was only setter in the country to average at least .80 kills per set, 11 assists per set, 2.5 digs per set and .90 blocks per set this season.
Other seniors graduating include Lacy Haddock, who played well at opposite hitter in place of the injured McKenna Miller, along with Danelle Stetler and Sydnie Martindale, both of whom provided great back row play throughout the year.
"This group of seniors that led the way, carried us on their backs to this event," said BYU coach Heather Olmstead after her team's loss to Stanford. "It's just been remarkable to see what they've gone through throughout their careers."
The underclassmen watching how each senior this past season dealt with everything should provide a definite plus, however.
"That's something that the younger kids are going to be able to have for their experience going forward," Olmstead said. "They're going to be able to have this experience playing in a Final Four and playing well all season. Obviously 31 wins is remarkable for this group. Every single win was blood, sweat and tears. They worked very hard for every single win all year."
Key returners next season are junior libero Mary Lake, who earned second-team All-American honors along with sophomore middle blocker Kennedy Eschenberg and freshman middle blocker Heather Gneiting, who was named the national Freshman of the Year.
Regarding those who will directly replace Jones-Perry and Haddock-Eppich, the Cougars aren't without some ready talent.
Sara Hamson should return in full form next season to help compensate for the loss along with Taylen Ballard, who performed very well as a freshman in 2017 before being hampered by an injury. McKenna Miller also returns, although coming off of a late-season ACL injury may prove tough to completely overcome in time for the start of next season.
Also returning is the great tradition built at the Smith Fieldhouse by some of the most ardent supporters of any program nationally. Game in and game out BYU fans packed the building, providing support unheard of at most other programs.8 comments on this story
"The community and student support, the fan support this year, they just jumped on board with what we were doing from the beginning of the year. They could feel the excitement of this 2018 team," Olmstead said. "We're really proud of the tradition of volleyball we have at BYU. We know those fans are going to come back next year. We hope they're hooked and they want to come see the 2019 team. It's created a buzz, electricity in Provo that we're really proud of."
The 2019 season will begin in August and no one will be surprised should the Cougars again prove to be one of the nation's very best teams.