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BYU, Utah set up rivalry rematch in NCAA volleyball tournament with wins

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Utah’s Stef Jankiewicz and Allie Olsen jump to block a shot against UVU.

Utah’s Stef Jankiewicz, left, and Allie Olsen jump to block a shot against UVU during an NCAA volleyball game at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.

Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

The BYU and Utah volleyball teams will meet in the second round of the NCAA tournament after they both dispatched their first-round opponents on Friday.

With both teams playing at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Utah beat UVU 3-1, and then BYU swept Boise State.

Utah and UVU met twice in August to start the season, with the then-No. 10 Utes winning both times.

Despite Utah’s rank changing to No. 16 now, the result stayed the same, with the Utes beating the WAC tournament champions for a third time on the year.

“I think that Utah Valley is a really good team,” longtime Utah coach Beth Launiere said following her team’s match with the Wolverines. “They’re very well-coached. They’re a great coaching staff.

“I have the utmost respect for (UVU coach) Sam Atoa and what he does down there. They just have a lot of really great hitters. They’re aggressive and they were fired up. I thought they played well.”

UVU entered the match winners of its last eight sets, but Utah quickly put an end to that streak, using a surge to pull away from the Wolverines and take the first set 25-16.

The Utes scored the final seven points for a comfortable 1-0 set lead.

The next set saw the Wolverines claw their way to a gritty 25-22 win, as UVU did just enough to keep Utah at bay and hold on to a slim advantage throughout the set.

“It was more of us taking care of the ball on our side, and I think that was the difference,” Atoa said of the second set. “We weren’t able to do that as much in the other sets.”

Utah regained the lead in the third set, picking up a 25-19 victory. The Utes controlled the set, extending their advantage as time wore on.

Utah finished things off in the fourth and final set to advance to the second round of the tournament, putting on a dominant performance, using four service aces and 11 kills to get a 25-11 win.

“Whichever team we’re playing tomorrow, whether it’s BYU or Boise, those are two teams we need revenge on,” senior setter Stef Jankiewicz said in anticipation of the Utes’ second-round matchup.

“So we’re ready to go in and go as hard as we can.”

Utah will be playing BYU, as the Cougars capped the night off with a comfortable 3-0 sweep of Boise State, advancing to the tournament’s second round for the 10th straight season.

BYU sophomore outside hitter Erin Livingston had a match-high 15 kills. She was complemented by teammate Whitney Bower, who finished the night with 25 of the Cougars’ 33 assists.

“I thought Whitney set a great game,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. “She was putting up such nice hittable balls, and Erin was swinging fearlessly.

“She was going off hands, in between hands, around hands, over hands. I think she’s just playing with a confidence within herself that she can get a kill every time she swings, and she almost did tonight.”

BYU looked every bit the No. 5 ranked team in the country, easily dismantling the Broncos. The Cougars impressively won the first set 25-6. The next two sets were closer, but BYU still easily won 25-19 and 25-10.

Current Cougar and former Ute Kenzie Koerber was asked about BYU’s second-round matchup against her old school.

“Right now, I just feel like it’s the next team,” Koerber said. “I’m not even thinking about that being my former team.”

BYU and Utah will compete for a spot in the Sweet 16 Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Smith Fieldhouse.

The match will mark the third time in four years that the Utes and the Cougars have met in the NCAA tournament.

The schools split the two previous meetings.