2002 Season Outlook

Karen Lamb takes over an inexperienced team in 2002 as she replaces legendary coach Elaine Michaelis. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

Karen Lamb Takes over Tradition-Rich BYU Program with an Inexperienced, but Talented Team

New Era Begins in 2002 with Retirement of Elaine Michaelis

There will be a new look to BYU volleyball in 2002, both on the court and along the bench. In May 2002, legendary coach Elaine Michaelis retired from coaching after 40 years guiding the Cougar program. Karen Lamb, a BYU assistant the past eight years who also has been a college head coach for nine seasons, takes over a program that returns very little on-court experience from last year's 20-9 team.

In 2002 BYU will be without the services of four key starters. Three time All-American Nina Puikkonen, fellow middle blocker Jackie Bundy and outside hitter Natalie Whittaker all graduated. In addition, senior rightside hitter Sunny Mahe, who was named the AVCA/Sports Imports National Player of the Week and twice honored as the MWC Player of the Week in 2001, will redshirt the 2002 season while expecting her first child in November.

Lamb takes over a Cougar team that enters the season without a returning All-American on the roster for the first time since 1995. Last year was the first season since 1989 that a Cougar did not receive All-America honors and only the fifth time BYU has not had an All-American since Lamb became BYU's first women's volleyball All-American in 1977.

A talented but inexperienced group, the 2002 team returns two starters in All-Mountain West Conference selections Karina Puikkonen and Uila Crabbe. Puikkonen has set the Cougar attack the past two seasons while Crabbe stepped up in 2001 to play a vital role on the back row for Michaelis in her final season. Other than sophomore outside hitter Lauren Richards, who played in 19 matches a year ago, no other player on the roster has spent consistent time on the court as a Cougar.

Despite the inexperience, the Cougars have a typically talented roster and extremely versatile lineup. The late summer addition of redshirt sophomore transfer April Varner, who started on the outside during the spring for Long Beach State, gives Lamb another talented option as she opens fall camp. In all, the 2002 Cougar roster is comprised of eight returning letterwinners, three transfers, two redshirt freshmen and two high school recruits.

The following position-by-position look at the Cougars gives further insight into what might transpire on the court for BYU in 2002.

OUTSIDE HITTERS

The outside will take on a different look in 2002, especially with All-MWC rightside hitter Sunny Mahe sitting out in 2002 while expecting her first child in November. Mahe is an All-America candidate if she is on the court and will be greatly missed until she can complete her senior year next season. With Natalie Whittaker lost to graduation, sophomore Lauren Richards is the only outside returning with significant experience. The versatile 5-foot-11 talent came out of a redshirt season as a setter to play the last 19 matches as a hitter on the left side, appearing in 63 of 104 total games last year. She averaged 2.38 kills while hitting .136. A powerful hitter and a premier setter, she showed her potential on the outside with a career-best 20-kill performance at No. 1 Long Beach State in the regular season finale. Although she played setter on the U.S. Junior National Team, Richards played outside in high school where she was an All-American and two-time state MVP at Timpanogos High School in Orem, Utah. In addition to Richards, three other outsides saw some time last year. Sophomores Becky Warnick and Lindsey Steele Metcalf both played in 25 games in 2001 and senior Allison Larson appeared in 20. The 5-foot-11 Warnick had the most success as a hitter, averaging 1.76 kills and a .168 attack percentage, while the 6-foot Metcalf, who got married over the summer, was the more accomplished blocker but hit only .081. The 6-foot Larson averaged 1.55 kills per game but hit only .053. Warnick and Larson saw most of their action early in the season prior to Richards coming out of her planned redshirt, while Metcalf earned some spot time late because of her blocking skill. All three players have shown improvement during the spring and could play a solid role this season. Redshirt freshman Erin Webb is a 6-foot converted middle who was a pleasant surprise during the spring with good all-around skills. Three other outsides are new to the program in 2002, including transfer April Varner, who hit .308 as a reserve in 2001 and started in the spring for Long Beach State before deciding to transfer. The 6-foot sophomore could make an immediate impact for the Cougars. She hit .440 and averaged five kills per game during LBSU's spring season. Junior transfer Sahara Castillo comes to BYU from Ricks College (BYU-Idaho). The 6-foot native of Peru has international experience playing for her national team. Freshman recruit Kimberly Wilson out of nearby Provo High School has excellent athleticism. The 6-foot freshman could compete for time if she does not redshirt. Filling Mahe's void on the rightside could be Metcalf, Castillo, Larson or Varner.

MIDDLE BLOCKERS

With the three-year starting combo of Nina Puikkonen and Jackie Bundy gone in the middle, the Cougars will look to find some replacements among four middles on the roster. Only one, junior Carrie Bowers, has taken the court for BYU and she appeared in only nine games last year after playing in just four as a redshirt freshman. Redshirt freshman Lexi Brown and newcomers Laura Nielsen, a junior transfer from Ricks College (BYU-Idaho), and Lindsy Lewis, a freshman out of Century High School in Inkom, Idaho, join Bowers. Bowers stands 6-foot-2 and is an athletic player. A three-time all-state player at Highland High School (Utah) playing alongside Logan Tom, Bowers has had the misfortune of injuries and playing behind BYU's talented middle the past several seasons. After being slowed by foot injuries, she displayed great athleticism in the spring with a solid block and improved attack. She has the talent to earn a starting role in 2002. Brown, a 6-foot-1 all-state player out of Jordan High School (Utah) who redshirted last year, has had a year to improve and observe. She showed excellent all-around ability during the spring and is expected to be a solid contributor this season. Nielsen was a second-team Scenic West Athletic Conference Region 18 selection at Ricks College in 2001. The 6-foot-1 transfer looks to earn some time on the floor after being voted the Ricks College Outstanding Volleyball Athlete after leading the team in kills (3.12 kpg) and blocks (1.16 bpg) and finishing second with a .312 hitting percentage. Lewis, a towering 6-foot-4 presence, is a two-sport high school athlete who will concentrate on volleyball at BYU. She has the opportunity to have an immediate impact after a stellar prep career that is rated among the best ever from Idaho. Others who could play the middle if needed include senior Allison Larson.

SETTERS

Karina Puikkonen is BYU's most experienced returning player. While guiding BYU's highly rated offensive attack the past two seasons, she has twice garnered All-MWC honors. The 6-foot junior was second in the MWC with 12.65 assists per game last year and was a constant threat on the attack, hitting a team-best .400 attack percentage while averaging 1.50 kills per game. A seasoned and complete player, Puikkonen is an excellent blocker and solid on the back row. She averaged 0.89 blocks and 1.88 digs in 2001 after a redshirt freshman season in 2000 that included averages of 12.68 assists, 1.22 kills, 1.59 digs and 0.98 blocks per game. She also hit .290, the third best percentage on the team in 2000. While Puikkonen's skills are a large part of why BYU has ranked highly in hitting and blocking during her two seasons, she will be without most of the hitters, including All-American sister Nina, she has set the past two seasons. In addition to Puikkonen, sophomore Lauren Richards, a former setter on the U.S. Junior National Team, could see time setting in 2002. Richards, who like Puikkonen has the size and versatility to also play elsewhere, was among the nation's most prized recruits out of high school and could cause the Cougars to consider a 6-2 attack in 2002. She is one of the most accomplished BYU players with extensive national and international experience, including this past summer when she was invited to train as a setter with the USA National A2 Program.

DEFENSIVE SPECIALISTS/LIBERO

Two quality back-row players will see time in 2002, including 2001 MWC Co-Defensive Specialist of the Year Uila Crabbe. Crabbe, a 5-foot-7 junior totaled 118 digs in conference play and averaged 2.57 digs per game overall. She had a career-best 17 digs vs. Texas and was a valuable contributor at the service line, recording four aces twice on her way to 26 aces overall. A solid passer, she played in every game in 2001 after playing in 16 matches as a freshman. Senior Michelle Mahaffey appeared in 15 matches, averaging 1.00 digs playing in 20 games. She could see more time as a senior with the addition of the libero rule in 2002. Crabbe could also see some time as a libero. Castillo could also factor in as the libero.

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE

BYU is a member of the Mountain West Conference. The Cougars have a 35-7 regular season record in three years of MWC play after finishing third in 2001 with a 10-4 mark. BYU won the inaugural regular season title in 1999 with a 13-1 record and finished second in 2000 with a 12-2 mark. BYU appeared in the MWC Tournament title match in each of the first two seasons, winning the title over Colorado State in Fort Collins in 2000 after losing the 1999 title to the Rams in Provo. Utah won last year's crown, also in Provo. Six of the eight MWC programs have competed in postseason action over the years. In 2001, four MWC teams earned NCAA bids. Since the MWC was founded in 1999, BYU, Colorado State and Utah have represented the conference in the NCAA tournament each season. Last year all three teams were ranked in the top-25 (CSU 10, Utah 15 and BYU 22). San Diego State returned to NCAA Tournament play last year after a four-year hiatus. Overall, BYU has made 20 NCAA appearances, followed by Colorado State and SDSU with 13, New Mexico with seven, and Utah and Wyoming with four. BYU has a winning record over every MWC team with an overall conference winning percentage of .842. The 2002 MWC Tournament will be held in Fort Collins, Colo., Nov. 21-23.

SCHEDULE

BYU features one of the top schedules nationally in 2002. Eleven matches are scheduled against teams ranked in the top 25 at the end of last season. Not including potential 2002 MWC tournament match-ups, BYU will play a minimum of 17 matches against teams that qualified for last year's NCAA tournament compared to the scheduled 12 matches against NCAA teams a year ago. Overall, nine opponents were ranked in the top 25 at the end of last season, and 14 teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament with a combined tournament record of 20-14. Among BYU's 2002 opponents, Arizona, ranked No. 4 in the final 2001 poll, reached the Final Four last year, and No. 5 USC and No. 6 Florida were regional finalists in the NCAA Tournament. Other top-25 teams from last year include Colorado State (No. 10), Texas A&M (No. 11), Hawaii (No. 13), Utah (No. 15), Illinois (No. 20) and Utah State (No. 21). Of the Cougars' 2002 opponents, BYU has a losing record against only two teams (Hawaii and USC). Against last year's nationally ranked opponents, BYU has an impressive 192-59 (.765) record.

RULES CHANGES

In the first year the NCAA is writing rules for collegiate women's volleyball, the NCAA Women's Volleyball Rules Committee approved several rules changes for the 2002 season. Most prominent among them is the use of the libero player with 12 substitutions. Important rules changes adopted for 2002 are:

-- The use of the libero as a designated back-row player who cannot serve, attack or set inside the attack line. The libero is allowed to replace any player in a back-row position. Replacements involving the libero do not count as regular substitutions.

-- The use of the pursuit rule allowing players to retrieve a ball that has crossed the centerline outside the court under certain circumstances.

-- In a deciding game, teams must switch sides at eight points.

-- Expulsion or disqualification of a player results in a loss of rally (point for the opposing team).

-- Net sleeves will be allowed on the top of the net with adequate securing devices.

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