Uila Crabbe is one of eight players with starting experience who return in 2003. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
2003 Season Preview
Coming off the most injury-plagued season in team history, the BYU women's volleyball team is poised to become the most improved team in the nation in 2003. A healthy squad combined with a talent-laden lineup should return the Cougars to the top echelon of teams in the country.
After seeing its lineup decimated by injuries -- a total of 12 Cougars drew starting assignments in 2002 -- BYU returns 11 letterwinners and eight players with significant starting experience.
The positive side of BYU's injury struggles last year is manifested in its suddenly experienced lineup. Despite the Cougars' 14-19 record in 2002, they were an impressive 7-2 in five game matches with a perfect 6-0 record versus Mountain West Conference opponents. Their improvement as the season wore on was manifested in their run to the MWC Tournament finals.
"Last year will never happen again," BYU head coach Karen Lamb said. "Only one of the injuries happened in practice and the rest were freak injuries. But last season made us really tough. The result is we have a lot of tough individuals on our team. We need to be in that mindset to compete at the highest levels."
BYU's outside hitting triumvirate of Kimberly Wilson, April Varner and Lindsey Metcalf each saw extensive playing time last season, with Wilson establishing herself as a premiere attacker as the season wore on. Now healthy is Alexis Brown, who began last season as a starting middle blocker before a torn ACL. Also healthy is Carrie Bowers, who nursed stress fractures to both feet last season.
In her second year, Lamb welcomes back into the fold three 2002 redshirts with All-America potential, including senior outside hitter Sunny Mahe, sophomore setter Lauren Richards and freshman middle blocker Lindsy Lewis. In addition, the Cougars have five incoming freshman headlined "by Fab 50" recruit Erica Lott, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker from Orem, Utah.
The No. 13 blocking team in the nation in 2002, BYU should be one of the top blocking teams in the country with a healthy, cohesive unit. Each position in the Cougar lineup, except for the libero, is projected to have a starter 6-feet tall. Led by the 6-foot-4 Lewis, the Cougars will choose their starters from a pool of players that include: Bowers (6-2), Mahe (6-2), Nielsen (6-1), Brown (6-1), Metcalf (6-0), Varner (6-0), Wilson (6-0) and Richards (6-0).
Richards, one of the most athletic setters in the country, quarterbacks the attack, and she has no shortage of experienced hitters to get the ball to.
"This will be an exciting season for us," Lamb said. "We have alot of talent coming back and with three key redshirts returning. We expect to be a top-20 team throughout the season."
BYU has lost three players from its 2002 roster. All-MWC rightside hitter Allison Larson and defensive specialist Michelle Mahaffey were the two departing seniors while two-time All-MWC setter Karina Puikkonen graduated with a degree in Zoology and will not return for her final year of eligibility.