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BYU volleyball: Cougars overcome slow start to cruise past American and into NCAA's second round

PROVO — American University volleyball coach Barry Goldberg perhaps summed up BYU's straight-set win over his team on Friday best by stating, "It looked like it was going to be a pretty good match there for the first five minutes."

In those first few minutes the No. 13-seeded Cougars came out a bit tight and the Patriots took advantage, forging a 6-3 lead early before the home team woke up. Players relaxed, came into their own and answered the rough start with an 8-0 run before taking the first set 25-11.

The rest of the match followed suit, with the Cougars looking every bit the part of an NCAA tournament team, led by a veteran squad used to playing at a high level in what was a dominating straight-set victory (25-11, 25-17, 25-16.)

Veronica Jones-Perry led the way with a match-high 13 kills. McKenna Miller added 11. Perhaps the best part of BYU's play was on the defensive end. Libero Mary Lake accounting for 20 digs and Lyndie Haddock another 10. The Cougars were outblocked 8-5, but some skilled receiving on the back row helped to frustrate the Patriots' attack and led to a relatively low .027 hitting percentage as a team.

"To keep them that low was nice, and that was our digging to (set up) kill (opportunities,)" said BYU coach Heather Olmstead. "We didn't block a ton of their swings, so you'd think we'd block more with them hitting so low. But we forced them to some things they're not comfortable with."

The Cougars made sure to get off to a much better start in the second set, and quickly built a 5-0 lead before cruising to another win with the third and final set telling pretty much the same story.

"We kind of played more free and like BYU volleyball," Jones-Perry said of the play after incurring a tough start out of the gate.

About the only point of criticism one could assign BYU for Friday's performance, other than the slow start, was an inability to completely put the Patriots away at the end of sets. The Patriots fought off four set points in the second and then five more in the third, which is something the team will work to address heading into what promises to be a tougher match versus Oregon.

"Lack of focus," Olmstead said of the inability to close out sets effectively. "We talked about that as a team — just the first split second you lose your focus, then a team is able to score a couple of points. So that's normal. We try to avoid it, but volleyball is a game of momentum. You can get it easily and lose it easily."

As mentioned, the team will need to hone in better focus throughout in taking on the Ducks on Saturday. The match will start at 7 p.m. MST, with players excited for one last opportunity to play in front of the home crowd against a quality opponent.

"We're always excited to play," said senior middle blocker Cosey Burnett. "It doesn't matter who it is, but the fact that it's against Oregon? Sweet, let's go."