PROVO — The BYU women’s volleyball team finds itself in a familiar place at the beginning of December: back in the NCAA Tournament.
They’ll also start their tournament run in a similarly familiar place: the Smith Fieldhouse.
BYU will take the No. 14 overall seed into the tournament, and will host New Mexico State (27-3) in the first round Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. MST. That match will follow the other side of the Provo subregional, in-state rival Utah (22-9) and Big Ten foe Illinois (16-13), which is scheduled to tip at 4 p.m. MST.
The winners will face off Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. MST.
“We’re excited to host this weekend and play again in the Smith Fieldhouse against New Mexico State, as well as host Utah and Illinois,” BYU head coach Heather Olmstead said. “It’s going to be a great weekend of volleyball.”
West Coast Conference champion San Diego (24-5) will play Washington State (23-9) on Dec. 6 in Hawaii. That left the Cougars awaiting an at-large bid, unsure of their overall fate — though confident, with the No. 13 ranking in the final AVCA Coaches' Poll — and looking up at the likes of Baylor, Texas, Stanford and Wisconsin, who claimed the top-four seeds in the tournament.
A home match would be nice, but a tournament berth was the goal, especially as the second-best team in the conference.
"I'm really proud of our team and the season we’ve had," Olmstead said after the Cougars' senior-night victory over Pepperdine. "We've had some great wins and some nice competition with some really good teams. I like what we've put together with our resume.
"I like our body of work."
It’s the eight-straight NCAA Tournament appearance for the Cougars, who have risen to become a mainstay in college volleyball under Olmstead and her brother, former women’s volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead. They’ve been one of the top-16 seeded teams the tournament in six of those eight years.
The No. 13-ranked Cougars were led by McKenna Miller, the senior outside hitter who totaled 45 kills, .405 hitting, three aces, 14 digs and eight blocks in the final week of the season to finish 25-4 and 16-2 in West Coast Conference play.
Libero Mary Lake is BYU’s career leader in digs with 1,877, including 383 digs spread out across 106 sets as a senior.
BYU’s only losses came to league champion San Diego. The non-conference schedule includes a 3-1 win over then-No. 18 Utah at the Huntsman Center back on Sept. 19, a win that helped spark a run of 10-straight victories, including at then-No. 2 Stanford two nights after playing in Salt Lake City.
BYU has won eight of the last nine meetings in the rivalry series, including the last four.
One of the Cougars’ quality wins, then, was Utah, which topped Saint Mary’s, former No. 7 Kentucky and No. 23 Cal Poly in non-conference play before taking a 14-6 record out of the Pac 12. The Utes have won their last three matches, including a home victory over then-No. 23 Cal recently on Nov. 24.
The Provo subregional will be matched up with the winner of the Palo Alto subregional, which includes third-seeded Stanford, Denver, Georgia and Cal Poly. The Cardinal, who are coached by former BYU men’s volleyball middle blocker Kevin Hambly, swept BYU in last year’s national semifinals in Minneapolis.
Editor's Note: This article previously said the winners will face off Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. MST. It has been corrected to reflect they will face off Dec 7.