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‘We don’t need to be afraid of anyone’: BYU women’s volleyball team proving it can compete with best teams in the nation

BYU’s McKenna Miller hits against Pacific in Provo on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. BYU won 3-0.
BYU’s McKenna Miller hits against Pacific in Provo on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. BYU won 3-0.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — What a difference a few months and perhaps a few adjustments can make.

About nine months removed from getting run out of the building by Stanford in the semifinal round of the NCAA tournament, the BYU women’s volleyball team exacted some revenge last Saturday. The venue wasn’t the Final Four, but rather the Cardinal’s home court. After suffering a first set loss, the Cougars stormed back to take the next three sets to come away with a 3-1 victory (18-25, 25-22, 25-23, 31-29).

“That was huge and just really a lot of fun,” said BYU outside hitter McKenna Miller about the win. “To go to their place and beat what is now the No. 1-ranked team, the week after we beat them — it’s just a big confidence-builder. We were able to step up in big moments going against a team of that level. It was a great win and definitely something we’ll hope to build off of.”

Of course Saturday’s win was for far smaller stakes than the loss suffered to Stanford last December, but what the match demonstrated is that the No. 9-ranked Cougars can play with the nation’s best — a common aspect of Olmstead-coached teams, starting with Shawn Olmstead and then Heather Olmstead, who took over as head coach in 2015.

“We can compete with these top teams. We don’t need to be afraid of anyone,” Miller said.

Miller led the charge against Stanford, accounting for a team-high 18 kills as she continues to impress coming off of an ACL injury sustained late last season.

For Heather Olmstead, however, it’s not so much about the specific opponent taken down last Saturday, but how it adds to the process that unfolds every season.

“I think it raises our confidence (knowing) that we’re doing a lot of the right things. We’re putting in the work and we’re starting to see results,” she said. “I think that our passing has improved and that our floor defense has improved. ... So it gives us confidence that we’re putting in the work and we just need to stick with the process.”

The Cougars (9-2 overall) now turn to West Coast Conference play where they’ve largely dominated the competition, beginning with matches at Gonzaga on Thursday night and then at Portland Saturday.

As is often the case, BYU enters WCC play as the clear favorite to take yet another conference championship, although Olmstead knows it’s never easy sledding for the prohibitive favorite.

“We know there’s a bull’s-eye on us. ... We understand the challenge ahead of us and we think we’re up for it,” she said. “I think the conference is going to be a challenge. It always is.”