No. 14 BYU claims 2020-21 WCC title with sweep of Santa Clara
PROVO, Utah — No. 14 BYU women's volleyball completed its second sweep of Santa Clara (25-18, 25-16, 25-9) at the Smith Fieldhouse on Wednesday to clinch its seventh West Coast Conference title since joining the league in 2011.
“I'm really happy for, and proud of, our team,” said BYU head coach Heather Olmstead. “They knew the plan, they stuck with the plan and they believed. I'm really proud that we were able to win the conference today and be headed to the tournament.”
The Cougars finish the 2020-21 regular season with a stellar overall record of 16-1 while going 15-1 conference play to claim the outright conference championship. This year's conference title is Olmstead’s fifth in six years as BYU's head coach. As the conference champions, the Cougars automatically qualify for the NCAA Tournament and will ride a nine-match win streak to the tournament site in Omaha, Nebraska.
Senior outside hitter Taylen Ballard-Nixon led the way with 12 kills on a .500 clip, also adding four digs and an ace. Senior middle blocker Kennedy Eschenberg finished the afternoon with nine kills with an exceptional .643 hitting percentage while totaling a team-high eight blocks.
Sophomore setter Whitney Bower finished with a double-double of 31 assists and 10 digs. Freshman libero Madi Allen led the team with 11 digs and added five assists.
BYU (16-1, 15-1 WCC) ended the regular season with its best hitting percentage performance of the year, finishing with a blistering .453. The Cougars only tallied five attack errors on the day, marking only the seventh time in the rally era a BYU team has had five or fewer attack errors in a single match.
The Cougars outblocked Santa Clara (5-11, 5-11 WCC) 10-2 while holding the Broncos to a season-low hitting percentage of .052.
After exchanging points to start the set, BYU took its first two-point lead, 6-4, off a kill by Ballard-Nixon. The Broncos answered with a four-point run to lock the score up at 8-all. Three consecutive attack errors by Santa Clara helped spark a 5-1 run by the Cougars, forcing a Bronco timeout. A long rally won by Santa Clara brought the Broncos back within three, but BYU never let it get any closer as three kills by Ballard-Nixon helped the Cougars win the first set, 25-18.
BYU charged out to a 6-2 lead, highlighted with aces by freshman middle blocker Leilani Dodson and sophomore defensive specialist Grace Wee. Kills by sophomore opposite Kate Grimmer and Ballard-Nixon made the score 9-4, forcing a Santa Clara timeout. Eschenberg contributed to a pair of blocks and added to kill to give the Cougars a seven-point advantage, 19-12. BYU closed the set with another 6-2 run, capped off with a block by Ballard-Nixon and Eschenberg, to give the Cougars the second game, 25-16.
After falling behind 3-1 to start the set, consecutive blocks by Grimmer and Eschenberg fueled a 10-1 run to give BYU an 11-4 lead. Ballard-Nixon connected on three kills and dropped an ace to extend the Cougars' advantage to 21-6. Eschenberg tallied her eighth and ninth kills of the day to help BYU claim the set, 25-9, and the WCC title.
The Cougars will find out who they will face in the NCAA Tournament during the Selection Show on Sunday, April 4 at 2 p.m. MDT on ESPNU. The tournament will feature 48 teams and is slated to begin Wednesday, April 14. The entire tournament will be held in Omaha, Nebraska.