Not counting the pandemic-altered 2020-21 spring season when the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Tournament was held at an entirely neutral site, BYU has started the tournament on its home court in Provo every year since 2014.

What happened that year?

The Cougars didn’t receive one of the top 16 seeds for the tournament and had to begin postseason play on the road in Tucson, Arizona. They knocked off Seton Hall and Arizona in Tucson, then moved on to Seattle and defeated Florida State and Nebraska.

“I think we’re playing some of our best volleyball, and we are excited to match up against a good JMU team. I know they are a good team, and they have good coaches. Lauren (Steinbrecher) is a good coach, so they will be ready to go.” — BYU women’s volleyball coach Heather Olmstead

In the Final Four that year in Oklahoma City, they downed Texas in a national semifinal match before falling to No. 4 seed Penn State in the championship match.

That brings us to 2022. Ranked No. 18 in the AVCA poll, the Cougars (21-6, 15-3) didn’t receive a top 16 seed and therefore are out on the road for the tournament’s first weekend for the first time since that magical run eight years ago.

Coach Heather Olmstead’s West Coast Conference runner-up faces Sun Belt champion James Madison (24-4, 15-1) in a first-round matchup Friday afternoon (2 p.m. MST) at the Petersen Events Center on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

The winner of the BYU-JMU match will meet the winner of the Pitt-Colgate match on Saturday at 5 p.m. MST.

Although the Cougars would obviously rather be playing at home, Olmstead said making the tournament for the 11th straight year is still a huge accomplishment. It is BYU’s 35th overall appearance in NCAA championships.

“We are super excited to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Olmstead said. “I think our team has done a great job this season. I am proud of the work that they’ve done to get to this point, how resilient our group has been, how we’ve stayed together and (how) we just keep getting better as the season goes on.”

BYU has won or finished runner-up in the WCC in all eight of Olmstead’s seasons in Provo. San Diego (27-1, 18-0) won the WCC this year and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs and the right to host first- and second-round matches.

Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine are also in the tournament, the most (four) teams in the national tourney for the WCC since five made it in 2018.

Olmstead said the WCC continues to be one of the top women’s volleyball conferences in the country; Next year, BYU will compete in the Big 12, which has five teams in the 64-team field, including No. 1 overall seed Texas.

Regional play for teams winning two matches this weekend is on Dec. 8 and 10. The regional champions will play in the national semifinals on Dec. 15 at CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska.

The championship match is on Dec. 17 and will be televised by ESPN2.

Don’t rule out the Cougars, who have taken this route before.

“I think we’re playing some of our best volleyball, and we are excited to match up against a good JMU team,” Olmstead said.

“I know they are a good team, and they have good coaches. Lauren (Steinbrecher) is a good coach, so they will be ready to go.”

Seventh-ranked Pitt (27-3, 17-1) won the ACC championship for the fourth time in the last six seasons and should have an easy time with Colgate.

The Panthers downed BYU 3-1 on Sept. 3 in Provo in the BYU-Nike Invitational.

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“Our team has been putting in the work this whole season, and there is no better place to go than to Pitt for the first round and play JMU,” said BYU middle blocker Heather Gneiting.

“We are ready to take it one game at a time and are just grateful for the opportunity to play every day.”

The Cougars are No. 5 in the country in team hitting percentage (.297) and No. 18 in kills per set (14.02).

James Madison has won 15 straight matches and is led by Miette Veldman and Sophie Davis, who have 416 and 314 kills, respectively.

“The tournament has a ton of good teams in it,” said BYU junior outside hitter Erin Livingston. “We’re happy to be one of them. We’re ready to go.”

BYU has advanced to the Sweet 16 or better in nine of its last 10 seasons. The Cougars are 54-34 all-time in the tournament and have a 23-5 record in first-round matches.