Four teams from state of Utah earn NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament bids; Utah gets a No. 14 seed, BYU a No. 16 seed
After winning the WAC championship, Utah Valley will be making its first trip to the tournament; Big Sky champion Weber State also makes the field of 48 in Omaha, Nebraska
The state of Utah will be well-represented in Omaha, Nebraska, next week.
No fewer than four volleyball teams from the Beehive State will compete in the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament, an all-time high, it was announced Sunday afternoon during the NCAA Tournament selection show.
The University of Utah, third-place finisher in the Pac-12, received a No. 14 seed, while West Coast Conference champion BYU got a No. 16 seed. Utah Valley University is making its first trip to the tournament, having won the WAC championship last week, while Weber State won the Big Sky as is also headed to volleyball’s version of the Big Dance.
“I was really excited about that,” said Utah coach Beth Launiere. “I am so happy for Utah Valley and Weber State. Those coaches have worked so hard and done such great jobs with their programs. I am so proud of them and happy for those players. … I was super-stoked for those coaches and those programs.”
As seeded teams, BYU (16-1) and Utah (13-4) got first-round byes. The Utes and Cougars didn’t play each other this season, a season that was pushed from last fall to this spring by the pandemic.
The Utes will face the winner of the April 14 first-round match between Long Island University and Pittsburgh on April 15. If Utah wins its second-round match, it will likely face No. 3 seed Minnesota (15-2), which is coached by former BYU standout Hugh McCutcheon.
BYU, which was ranked No. 14 in the last AVCA poll and has won nine straight matches, will face the winner of the April 14 Rider (7-4) vs. UCLA (14-6) match on April 15 in Omaha. Rather than having 64 teams and no byes, this year’s pandemic-altered tournament has 48 teams and will be played over eight days at the CHI Health Center Omaha.
Weber State (18-1) will meet Bowling Green (22-1) on April 14, with the winner advancing to play No. 1 seed Wisconsin (13-0). BYU and Weber State are in the same top left bracket.
Utah Valley (14-5) will meet Texas State (30-8) on April 14, with the winner advancing to play No. 5 seed Nebraska (14-2).
Launiere isn’t complaining about the seeding, although the Utes were No. 12 in the last AVCA poll.
“It is like anything this season, you just have to take whatever is given to you, and that’s where we are at,” she said. “I am excited to be in the tournament. We are excited to have a seed. It is so different now. We just have to figure out how to manage that.”
Launiere said the Utes have focused on being “relentlessly adaptable” this season, “and this won’t be any different.”
Because this last weekend’s regular-season finale matches vs. Oregon State were canceled, the Utes haven’t played since sweeping Washington State 3-0 on March 28. That’s the only match they’ve played since sweeping Colorado 3-0 on March 21.
“You have to be aware of these things, and then just manage them the best you can, and just understand that everybody is in the same boat,” she said. “A ton of teams lost a bunch of matches late in the season due to COVID.”
The Utes lost freshman outside hitter Zoe Weatherington to an MCL tear midway through the season, but are otherwise healthy and ready to roll, Launiere said, noting they held two intrasquad matches last week “and had some really good five-set matches within our own team.” She expects more of the same this week.
BYU coach Heather Olmstead said the Cougars are happy to be seeded this year.
“We have been preparing our whole season for this moment, so we are going to be ready regardless of our situation and when we play and what time and where,” she said.
Olmstead every team that makes the tournament is a good team, so the Cougars will prepare for both Rider and UCLA.
“Nothing really changes as far as our preparation,” she said. “This is the pinnacle of women’s volleyball. … There is more excitement because it is a one and done tournament, so a lot more is on the line.”
Three teams from the West Coast Conference made the field of 48, as San Diego and Pepperdine will join the Cougars in Omaha. Pepperdine handed BYU its only loss, a 3-0 sweep back on Feb. 23 in Malibu, California.
The Cougars avenged that loss the next night with a 3-2 win, and have dropped just two sets since then in eight matches.