The Cougars will make their 23rd NCAA Tournament appearance Thursday facing UC Santa Barbara in the First Round. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- For the 23rd time in the 26-year existence of the NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship, the BYU women's volleyball team has qualified for the annual postseason tournament. The No. 22-ranked Cougars received one of 33 at-large selections Sunday after achieving a 24-5 overall record.
"We feel very good about getting back to the NCAA Tournament," BYU head coach Jason Watson said. "BYU has a rich history of competing in the NCAA Championship. Our athletes worked extremely hard this season to put us in a position to continue the legacy our program has achieved over the years."
The Cougars will play UC Santa Barbara (19-11, 8-6 Big West Conference) Thursday at 5 p.m. PST (6 p.m. MST) in a first-round matchup hosted by the University of Southern California at the Galen Center in Los Angeles. The winner of the BYU-UCSB match will play Friday night at 7 p.m. PST against the winner of the No. 5-seeded USC and Mississippi contest slated for 7 p.m. PST Thursday.
"UCSB is a team that has competed well this year and is very deserving of its selection," said Watson. "We have a lot of work to do between now and Thursday, but we look forward to the challenge."
The Gauchos finished the regular season 19-11 overall, including three-game losses at Stanford and at UNLV, and 8-6 in the Big West Conference. UCSB has received an invitation to all 26 NCAA Tournaments and enters this year's contest having won its last five matches. The Gaucho are led by senior outside hitter Jamie Garbisch with 3.98 kills per game, while senior middle blocker Olivia Waldowski adds 3.53 kpg on .401 hitting - 17th in the nation - in addition to 0.98 blocks per game. Junior middle blocker Brett Quirarte leads the team with 1.10 bpg and hits .321 with 2.80 kpg. Senior libero Emily Hendrickson puts up 5.28 digs per game. As a team, the Guachos are hitting .223 while allowing opponents to hit .188. UCSB averages 15.55 kpg and 2.31 bpg.
Thursday's match will be the 17th meeting between BYU and UCSB and their second NCAA Tournament matchup. BYU holds a 9-6-1 advantage in the overall series, including a regional-round loss to the Gauchos in Provo during the 1981 NCAA Tournament. UCSB, along with Penn State and Stanford, holds the distinction of making the most NCAA Tournament appearances at 26.
BYU played against four schools this year that qualified for the 64-team field, earning a 4-2 record against those teams, including a four-game victory over No. 2-seeded Stanford. BYU also defeated tournament teams Arkansas (3-0) and Colorado State (3-3, 3-2) while going 0-2 against the Utah Utes (1-3, 0-3).
BYU is tied for ninth in all-time appearances with its 23rd selection this season and is the 11th-winningest team in NCAA Tournament history with a 27-22 record. BYU's last appearance in the NCAA Tournament was last season when the Cougars lost to Pepperdine, who advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, in the first round also in Los Angeles.
The Cougars have advanced to the second round in 17 of their prior 22 appearances, with a 12-5 first-round record and five automatic byes. The Cougars have made 14 Sweet Sixteen appearances in their 22 bids and advanced to eight Elite Eight Regional Finals. BYU's top finish in the NCAA Tournament came in 1993 when the Cougars advanced to the NCAA Final Four before losing in the national semifinals to Penn State.