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PROVO — The NCAA women's volleyball tournament unveiled its 64-team bracket Sunday night, and two local schools are headed to the Big Dance.
Utah State will face No. 6 Arkansas in a quadrant that also includes Loyola Marymount and third-seeded Oregon, while BYU drew the No. 7 seed against James Madison in a quadrant that also includes No. 2 Pittsburgh and Colgate.
The Aggies are headed back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2010 after winning the Mountain West Conference tournament in Fort Collins, Colorado. Utah State, the No. 4 seed in that tournament, won a tournament title for the first time since winning the Wester Athletic Conference tournament 12 years ago with a 3-1 win over San Jose State 24-26, 25-14, 25-17, 25-19 on Friday night.
Led by third-year coach Rob Nielson, the Aggies (22-10) will make their fifth NCAA Tournament appearance all-time when they open against the Razorbacks on Friday, Dec. 2, at 5 p.m. MT in Eugene, Oregon. The two sides have met five times in program history, with Arkansas owning a 4-1 series advantage.
Tatum Stall leads Utah State with an average of 3.69 kills per set for 365 kills on the year, with Kennedi Boyd hitting a team-high .362. Senior outside hitter Shelby Capllonch was named Mountain West Tournament MVP, leading four Aggies on the all-tournament team.
"The late great Carl McGown used to say that, 'the players are the magic.' These guys just did something magical," said Neilson, citing his former BYU coach where he spent over a decade as an assistant coach and interim head coach at his alma mater. "They're tough, strong, skilled, powerful and resilient. Now we're conference champions. It's awesome."
The Cougars will take on the Dukes (24-4) on Friday, Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. MST, the first of two matches in Pittsburgh before a second-round contest set for Saturday at 5 p.m. MST.
The berth marks the 11th-straight NCAA Tournament appearance and 35th overall for BYU, which finished second in the West Coast Conference.
Ranked No. 18 in the final AVCA coaches' poll before a regular season-ending loss to No. 2 San Diego in four sets that snapped a streak of 28-straight conference home wins, the Cougars (21-6) are led by outside hitter Erin Livingston, a junior .299 hitter with 4.39 kills per set for 404 on the year and senior Heather Gneiting, who averages 2.49 kills and a team-best 1.22 blocks per set.
Senior setter Whitney Bower is the engine of the offense, averaging 10.21 assists and 1.47 points per set.
"We're really excited," said Gneiting, who starred at nearby Pleasant Grove High. "Our team has been putting in the work this whole season, and there's no better place to go than to Pitt for the first round and play JMU. We're ready to take it one game at a time and are just grateful for the opportunity to play every day."
BYU ranks fifth nationally in team hitting with a .297 hitting percentage, 18th in kills per set at 14.02 and 21st in assists per set with 12.96.
It's tournament time. pic.twitter.com/X2HlAHFXA0— BYU Women's Volleyball (@BYUwvolleyball) November 28, 2022
A graduate of Utah State, BYU coach Heather Olmstead will make her eighth NCAA Tournament appearance, a run that includes five Sweet 16 finishes including each of the past two seasons and the 2018 NCAA Final Four. The 2018 AVCA national coach of the year holds the highest winning percentage of any women's volleyball coach in NCAA Division I history and became the fastest coach to 200 career wins this season with a 3-1 win over then-No. 17 Pepperdine on Sept. 24.
"We're super excited to be in the NCAA tournament," Olmstead said. "I think our team has done a great job this season. I'm 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 just keep getting better as the season goes on. I think we're playing some of our best volleyball, and we're excited to match up against a good JMU team. I know they're a good team, and they have good coaches. Lauren's a good coach, so they'll be ready to go, and we're excited to match up with them in Pittsburgh."
See the full NCAA Division I women's volleyball tournament bracket here.
Weber State will also continue in the postseason, when the Wildcats (17-11) head to Wichita State to open the National Invitational Volleyball Championship against Drake on Sunday, Dec. 4 at 12 p.m. MT. The full bracket is available at womensnivc.com.