Senior sendoff for BYU volleyball and an eye on the NCAA Tournament | News, Sports, Jobs

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A crowd of 4,677 filled the Smith Fieldhouse for a women’s volleyball match between BYU and San Diego on Tuesday, November 22, 2022.

Courtesy BYU Photo

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BYU women’s volleyball senior Heather Gneting (center) poses with her family during Senior Night at the Smith Fieldhouse on Tuesday, November 22, 2022.

Courtesy BYU Photo

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BYU seniors (from left), Abby Taylor, Kelsey Knudsen, Abbey Dayton, Morgan Clinger, Kate Grimmer and Heather Gneiting, pose for a photo during Senior Night in the Smith Fieldhouse on Tuesday, November 22, 2022.

Courtesy BYU Photo

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BYU volleyball players and coaches are always talking about how the Smith Fieldhouse is such a special place.

Here’s another reason to believe the hype.

It’s a Tuesday night in late November, Thanksgiving week and an 8 pm start for TV. The 18th-ranked Cougars are playing West Coast Conference regular season champion San Diego (26-1 overall) in the league finale for both schools.

Also, it’s Senior Night.

When the final count was announced, attendance in the Fieldhouse was 4,677.

When the Toreros — ranked No. 2 in the country — held their Senior Night on Nov. 12 in Jenny Craig Pavilion, announced attendance was 555.

“I’m just super grateful that Cougar Nation came out on Tuesday of Thanksgiving weekend,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. “I don’t know if it was because we’re not hosting (in the NCAA Tournament) and people know that they’re not going to see our team again. But whatever it is, we’re grateful that they came out and we’re grateful for the opportunity to play in front of family, friends and just people who love our girls and also wanted to see some good, high level volleyball. I don’t know a better way to end the year than against the team that won conference with nothing to lose and I think our team gave their all.”

The tenth largest crowd in BYU women’s volleyball history didn’t go home with a win, but they didn’t exactly lose, either. The Cougars won the first set against San Diego and gave the visitors all they could handle before finally falling 3-1.

The fans also got to get one last home game with six seniors, led by two-time All-American Heather Gneiting.

The former Pleasant Grove star started her career at BYU way back in 2018 when the Cougars were ranked No. 1 nearly the entire season and advanced to the NCAA Final Four. Gneiting earned a starting role and was selected as AVCA National Freshman of the Year. After a sophomore season where she was named First Team All-WCC, Gneiting decided to serve a church mission. The pandemic hit while she was in Seattle and she returned for the fall 2021 campaign.

She stood with her family before Tuesday’s match and accepted loud applause from the fans in attendance.

“I’ve seen her grow and mature,” Olmstead said. “As a player, she came in with some really good support in 2018. And then she had to really develop herself in 2019 and in 2021 and 2022. She’s developed some leadership and she’s learned about her voice and how she can speak up and lead with energy and excitement. I think I’ve seen a lot of growth in Heather over these past four years.”

Heading into Tuesday’s match against San Diego, Gneiting was No. 2 at BYU in the rally scoring era in solo blocks (52) and sixth in total blocks (512). She’s also fifth in hitting percentage (.353), seventh in block assists (460) and ninth in aces (88).

The other five seniors include opposite hitter Kate Grimmer, outside hitter Abbey Dayton and libero Morgan Clinger from the Class of 2019 and one-year transfers in setter Abby Taylor and libero Kelsey Knudsen.

BYU will move on to the Big 12 next fall but left an indelible mark on the WCC. The Cougars won or shared eight regular-season titles since joining the league in 2011.

Before that happens, BYU (21-6) will receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, its 12th straight invitation. The Cougars are 27th in the Ratings Percentage Index, which puts them outside of the range for hosting the first two rounds of the tournament.

“I think there’s the opportunity to see how good this group can get in a ‘win-or-go-home’ tournament,” Olmstead said. “We’ve talked about it all year and here’s where we get a chance to match up against some of the best teams in the country. The excitement of not knowing who you’re going to play, that gets that fire and hunger going. Hey, we’ll play anyone, anywhere. I’m excited to see how this group responds.”

The NCAA Women’s Volleyball Selection Show is Sunday at 5:30 pm MT and can be seen on ESPNU.

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