Former Cougars in the Pros

Rachel Dyer - Plays on U.S. Team in Argentina
BYU middle blocker Rachel Dyer made the most of her 2005 summer by heading to Argentina with a USA Select Team to compete against the Argentine Junior National Team and other top teams. The 6-foot-1 native of Encinitas, Calif., was one of 18 collegiate players chosen to make the trip from June 7-19. Dyer started every match she played in and recorded highs of 11 kills, nine blocks and two aces. Her teams went 1-4 in recorded matches.
The trip took Dyer and her teammates to the neighborhoods and suburbs of Buenos Aires, including Olavarria, Zarate and Los Toldos, to face the Argentine Junior National Team. The USA teams also played various matches against the Argentina Youth National Team, Senior “B” Team and other professional and under-22 club programs in cities like Rosaria, Cordoba and Mendoza near the Chilean border.
Dyer joined Colorado State senior outside hitter Tess Rogers and CSU head coach Tom Hilbert in representing the Mountain West Conference on the trip. Hilbert coached one of the two U.S. teams, assisted by Michigan head coach Mark Rosen, while former BYU All-American and USA National Team assistant coach Kevin Hambly coached the other team with assistance from Oklahoma head coach Santiago Restrepo. Hambly played for Cougar men’s volleyball team from 1992-95. June 9, 2005 Journal Entry:
Today we started with breakfast at the hotel (which was very good) and then drove to the gym to play against Argentina’s Youth National Team. Our coaches were Kevin Hambly and Santiago Restrepo. Our opponents looked very young, but I was surprised how well they played. The girls had powerful arms and great ball control. A couple of the girls were pretty tall. I got roofed hard core by their middle blocker who was about 6-foot-4. The rest of the girls were average height but had very sound volleyball skills. You could tell that they had been taught well and trained hard. There was talent as well on our side of the net, but we had trouble in the beginning playing as a team. It is difficult to have any sense of team after just barely meeting the girls you are playing with. Kevin really wanted us to focus on “coming together” both physically and mentally on the court to expedite the process of becoming a team. With every game, we worked on it and improved. We won the match with scores of 23-25, 25-22, 25-19, 21-25, 15-9. It was a different experience to play against international competition. The Argentines yelled and talked just as much as we did but just in a different language! After the match we took a picture and talked to some of the girls (or tried to), and they seemed really fun. After we played, we took our double-decker bus to a little restaurant/pub in the Boca neighborhood. Apparently it is a pretty authentic restaurant where not very many tourists go. We ate some awesome steak and bread with flan as dessert. I’ve noticed that meat is pretty popular here in Argentina. We eat it just about everywhere we go. After lunch we took the bus to La Boca, a little barrio with lots of venders selling cool gadgets. A lot of the girls bought gifts for family and friends and prizes for themselves. We even got to see some people doing the tango – my new favorite thing about Argentina! While we were in La Boca, we started talking to some of the natives. In our broken Spanish, we were able to communicate that we were in Argentina to play volleyball. This usually made them very excited and then they understood why we were all so “alta” or “tall.” The Argentines are warm, friendly people and are very welcoming to us despite the language barrier. We are all looking forward to continuing our tour through Argentina while taking care of business on the court as well!

Nina Puikkonen - Finland
Nina Puikkonen traveled to Finland (or Suomi as Finnish people refer to their own country) Jan. 4–March 31, 2003 to play professionally. She is one of several BYU players who have enjoyed opportunities to continue their careers abroad including Lexi Brown Patterson, Sari Virtanen and Mariliisa Salmi, who both played on the Finnish National Team, and Sahara Castillo, who played on the Peruvian National Team.
Puikkonen was a three-time All-American women’s volleyball player at BYU as well as being recognized with numerous academic awards over the course of her time in Provo. After finishing out her career and graduating at the end of 2001, Puikkonen continued her passion for volleyball by spending time training with the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team and was later picked to play with the Chicago Thunder in United States Professional Volleyball league. Puikkonen was the first-ever Cougar that was chosen to play in the USPV that was slated to begin its second season on Jan. 10, 2003. However, in December 2002 the league suddenly folded, leaving over 50 world-class volleyball players scrambling to find opportunities to play.
After searching and waiting Puikkonen was offered a chance to play with a team in Finland, which she accepted. She left for Finland on Dec. 27, arriving the next morning to play for Tarmo-Volley in the Suomen-Masterus League (SM League) based in the city of Hämeenlinna. Founded in 1639, Hämeenlinna is Finland’s oldest city lying 61 miles north of Helsinki with a population of 46,352.
Although joining a team that started play in October, Puikkonen adjusted well and played through the rest of the season. “The girls were really fun and accepting of me as a part of their team. It helped that I could somewhat speak the language, but at the same time they know a good amount of English as well. I think I adapted as well as can be expected, other than the fact that I needed five layers of clothes because of the cold weather outside, which is not an exaggeration.”
Puikkonen’s team dominated the Finnish volleyball scene, cruising through the regular season and earning a No. 2 seed and automatic quarterfinal bye heading into the National Championships. The semifinals proved a tough test as the team dropped the first two games before coming back and winning in dramatic fashion, 15-13 in game five. Despite the struggle, Puikkonen’s team remained resilient and determined, advancing to the Championship game and sweeping Salo to take home the Gold.

Lexi Brown Patterson - Sweden
Sari Virtanen - Finland
Mariliisa Salmi - Finland
Sahara Castillo - Peru
Erica Lott - Germany

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