Finishing the 1998 season with a 31-4 record, the BYU women's volleyball team tied for fifth in the NCAA Tournament and placed sixth in the final poll to complete one of its most successful seasons.
The Cougars achieved more than 30 victories in a single season for an eighth time under Elaine Michaelis and the first time since a 34-5 record in 1987. BYU was dominating, winning 26 of its 31 matches in three games and earning a third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Regional Finals. The Cougars four losses were to eventual national champion Long Beach State (1-3), NCAA runner-up Penn State (0-3) and No. 5 Hawaii, who edged the Cougars in two of their three matches, both times in five-game marathon contests.
One of the highlights of the season was ironically also one of BYU's defeats. After defeating Hawaii 3-1 in Provo and suffering a tough 2-3 loss in Hawaii in front of nearly 9,000 Rainbow Wahine fans, the Cougars matched up with Hawaii for a third time, this time in front of a television audience in the WAC Tournament championship match in Las Vegas. Three hours and 38 minutes later, BYU came out on the losing end of what many have said to be the best volleyball match ever played. The Cougars fell to the Rainbow Wahine 12-15, 19-21, 15-13, 18-16, 22-24. During the match, Anna-Lena Smith set a BYU single match record with 89 assists and redshirt freshman Nina Puikkonen recorded career highs with 25 kills, 19 digs and 14 blocks.
BYU was led all year by rightside hitter Korie Rogers who earned her second consecutive second-team AVCA All-America honor in 1998. Smith, who earned the honor for the first time, joined Rogers on the All-America second team. Puikkonen, who earned CoSida District VII recognition along with Rogers and Smith, led the nation in blocks while becoming the first player in five years to average more than two blocks per game at 2.17.
The Cougars opened the year with four wins on their way to the UMass/Phoenix Invitational title. Rogers earned tournament MVP honors while Smith and junior college transfer Mari Carpenter made the All-Tournament Team in the tournament played in Amherst, Mass. After a home win over Washington State, the Cougars faced top-ranked Long Beach State and reigning and eventual player of the year Misty May. BYU started strong, winning the first game after jumping out on the 49ers by a 10-0 count. Even though the eventual NCAA champions came back to win the final three games, 15-5, 15-8, 15-9, the Cougars came out of the contest knowing they could play with anyone in the country.
A 16-match winning streak followed. During the streak, BYU won its own BYU Mizuno Classic featuring Texas Tech, Northern Illinois and Central Michigan. Rogers was again the tournament MVP with Smith again making the all-tournament team, this time joined by Puikkonen.
Coach Elaine Michaelis also achieve two milestones during the season, coaching in her 1,000th match (since records were kept in 1969) at home in a 3-1 win over Idaho State Oct. 5 and earning her 800th win in a 3-0 home victory Oct. 23 against UTEP. Later that same night, BYU achieved its second win of the day and perhaps its biggest triumph of the season, defeating No. 7 ranked UC Santa Barbara in three games, 15-10, 15-6, 15-3, at the Smith Fieldhouse.
Playing in their final year as a WAC member, the Cougars finished the conference season with a 13-1 record, tying Hawaii for first place in the pacific division and setting up the eventual WAC Tournament championship game. Rogers, Smith and WAC Freshman of the Year Puikkonen were first-team All-WAC selections while Carpenter and Melissa Layton earned second-team honors. Rogers and Smith were also named to the WAC All-Tournament Team.
Hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, BYU defeated Coastal Carolina and Kansas State to advance to University Park, Pa., and the East Regional hosted by No. 2-ranked Penn State. After defeating Pacific 3-1 in the regional semifinal, the Cougars fell to the Nittany Lions for the second consecutive year on their home court, 16-18, 2-15, 10-15. Rogers and Puikkonen earned all-tournament recognition.
As a team, BYU was second in the nation in blocking (3.77 bpg), sixth in hitting (.291) and 19th in assists (15.20 apg). The Cougars were also 19th in home attendance with 16 regular season matches averaging 1,135 Cougar faithful at the Smith Fieldhouse.