NCAA volleyball tournament: Weber State battles, BYU takes 3-0 sweep
PROVO — The No. 4-seeded BYU women’s volleyball team might be glad it only needed to win three sets against a determined Weber State squad in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
If the match had gone longer, things might have ended up swinging in favor of the underdog Wildcats.
The Cougars started strong with a powerful, dominant win in the opening set, then pulled away late to secure the second frame.
But the third was a different story as Weber State built a lead and had some chances to steal the win.
But with the score tied at 25-25, BYU took advantage of a couple of unfortunate miscues by the Wildcats to finish the 3-0 sweep (25-16, 25-16, 27-25) Friday at Smith Fieldhouse.
“That’s a really good BYU team, so hats off and congratulations to them,” Weber State head coach Jeremiah Larsen said. “I look forward to seeing what they do in the rest of the tournament. But I’m happy with the way the kids responded in a hostile environment.”
The Wildcats found themself in trouble from the start against the Cougars to open the match, going down 5-0 and never really finding their footing.
Weber State improved going into Set 2 only trailing 17-15 midway through the frame. From that point on, however, BYU pulled away. The Cougars went on an 8-1 run to close out the set and put the Wildcats in a tough position.
But Weber State responded with its best performance of the night, surging in front and leading by as much as five points at 12-7 in the final set.
“Our emotions calmed down a little bit,” Larsen said. “Saane Katoa did a nice job to open up the block for the other and we got after them serving. It’s something we’ve been able to do all season long and it gave them some fits. That put us in position to win the third game.”
Weber State had two set points when it went up, 24-22, but BYU got a kill and a Wildcat hitting error to tie things up. After the teams exchanged points, the Cougars closed it out when a couple of Weber State touches went out of bounds.
Although it wasn’t the end they wanted, both Larsen and Wildcat seniors Dani Richens and Makayla Sorensen said they will focus on how well the team did in the final frame.
“We liked how much we fought,” Richins said. “We could’ve given up and let them do what they did in the first two sets, but we made some adjustments. We played hard and we can’t ask for more.”
Sorensen said that, since this is the end of the road for those two seniors and the 2023 season, she’ll focus on the positives.
“It’s our last game, so we could dwell on first two sets or we could dwell on third where we competed really well,” she said. “That’s what we want to remember.”
When stepping back to look at the big picture, this was a Wildcat team that had a lot to be pleased about.
“I’m proud of our season,” Larsen said. “It was a huge step forward for our program and I’m looking forward to what we can do in the future.”
He did say, however, that it will be tough to move forward without Richins and Sorensen.
“This might make me cry a little bit,” Larsen said. “Dani has been with me for six years. This is Mikayla’s second NCAA tournament and she is the best libero Weber State has ever seen. They are all over the record books but their leadership and legacy will last for years to come. I can’t say enough about the type of people they are. They are all about the team and I couldn’t imagine a better duo to coach.”
Richins and Sorensen said they will miss being around the squad and going through the challenges of college volleyball.
“I’ll miss the relationships with the team,” Richins said. “I’ll remember the volleyball and making history but the relationships will be missed most. Coach pushes us to be the best we can be. I think we all agree we wouldn’t be the girls we are without him and his staff.”
Sorensen added: “With the team, you go through tough times but they bring you together. That’s what I’ll miss most.”
BYU advances to play No. 5 seed Arizona State in the NCAA second round. BYU hosts that match as well, scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday.