The 2018 BYU women’s volleyball campaign will be known among the best in program history – indeed, no other season of Cougar women’s volleyball can claim more accolades than this year’s team.
A win over No. 1 Stanford in the fourth match of the year coupled with victories a week later against No. 10 USC and No. 25 Marquette led the Cougars to their first No. 1 ranking since 1986. BYU continued to lay claim to the top spot in the nation for the rest of the regular season, winning its first 27 matches of the year. Overall, BYU was ranked No. 1 in 11 of the season’s 14 AVCA coaches’ polls thanks to victories against 10 teams featured in the NCAA Tournament.
A dynamic combination of offense and defense sparked the Cougars. BYU was ranked No. 1 in the nation throughout the regular season in team hitting percentage before finishing the year third overall. But the Cougars also finished the season at No. 1 in opponent hitting percentage and No. 5 in team blocks per set.
BYU’s 27-1 regular season record led to a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, its highest-ever seeding in the current tournament format. After defeating Stony Brook, the Cougars swept rival Utah, hitting .410 against the Utes.
The following weekend, BYU hosted its first NCAA Regional since 1986, welcoming No. 5 Texas, Florida and Michigan. Facing the Gators, five Cougars had eight kills or more as BYU defeated Florida to advance to the program’s 11th Elite Eight appearance and first since 2014. There BYU battled with Texas every set but came out victorious each time, sweeping the Longhorns to qualify for the program’s third-ever Final Four.
BYU was paired for a rematch with Stanford who had not lost another match all year besides the one in Provo and had reassumed the No. 1 ranking and top seed. Playing in front of a program-record crowd of 17,808 in the Target Center in Minneapolis, BYU came out on the other end this time against the Cardinal, losing to the eventual national champions to end the Cougars’ magical season with a record of 31-2.
With team success came numerous individual recognitions as well. Heather Olmstead was named AVCA National Coach of the Year in her fourth season as head coach of the Cougars. Also named the Pacific South Region and West Coast Conference Coach of the Year, Olmstead has guided BYU to WCC championships and at least two wins in the NCAA Tournament each of her four years at the helm. Currently holding a record of 118-13 (.901), Olmstead has the highest winning percentage of any women's volleyball coach in NCAA Division I history (min. one season) and in NCAA history in any division (min. three seasons).
BYU garnered six All-America citations, six All-Region recognitions, five All-WCC honorees, three Academic All-District awardees and one Academic All-American in addition to national coach and freshman of the year awards and sweeps of the region and conference awards.
Senior outside hitter Roni Jones-Perry was an AVCA Player of the Year and Honda Award finalist in addition to being named a first-team All-American, Provo Regional MVP, Pacific South Region Player of Year, WCC Player of the Year and a third-team Academic All-American. Nationally, Jones-Perry finished No. 4 in kills per set and points per set, No. 16 in total points, No. 23 in total kills and No. 45 in aces per set. The senior finished her career fifth in the rally scoring era and 10th all-time at BYU in career kills.
Senior setter Lyndie Haddock-Eppich was also named to the All-America First Team, All-Region First Team, All-WCC and Academic All-District Second Team after finishing the regular season as the only setter in the country to average at least .80 kills per set, 11.00 assists per set, 2.5 digs per set and .90 blocks per set. Junior libero Mary Lake was named second-team All-America, All-Region, WCC Defensive Player of the Year, All-WCC, Academic All-WCC and Academic All-District Second Team for her defense and passing prowess.
Middle blocker Heather Gneiting was named National Freshman of the Year, Region Freshman of the Year and WCC Freshman of the Year in addition to being named to the All-America Third, All-Region First and All-WCC and All-WCC Freshman teams. Gneiting finished No. 10 in blocks per set, No. 18 in total blocks and No. 23 in hitting percentage nationally, ranking top 10 in rally era BYU history in each of those categories.
Junior McKenna Miller was named All-America honorable mention, All-Region First Team and All-WCC after finishing second on the team in kills and aces despite a season-ending injury on Nov. 8. Sophomore middle blocker Kennedy Eschenberg, No. 31 in the nation in blocks per set, was also named All-America honorable mention and All-Region honorable mention.
Cougar fans came out en masse to support the team throughout the year, resulting in an average home attendance of 3,429 – almost 1,300 fans more than the program’s previous high average for a season. The top five home crowds of all-time came in 2018, including a record 5,472 to watch newly minted No. 1 BYU sweep No. 24 Utah on Sept. 13. The Cougars finished sixth nationally in average attendance.
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