Coming off the best season turnaround in BYU volleyball history last season, the BYU women's volleyball team is poised to continue its winning tradition in 2004. A talented
cast featuring both experienced returnees and powerful newcomers should earn the Cougars their 22nd NCAA Tournament appearance.
After posting a 24-9 mark and making their 21st NCAA Tournament appearance in 2003 with a second-round loss at No. 2 Hawai'i, the Cougars are looking to build on the success of last season with a tremendous amount of talent among 21 players, the most in Cougar history.
"We have a lot more confidence coming into this season," BYU head coach Karen Lamb said. "Our goal is to be better than we were last year, and I know it can happen. We have some really talented individuals on this team who will work hard to be their best."
BYU notched a 10-4 Mountain West Conference record in 2003 that featured series sweeps of five of seven conference foes, including Wyoming, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV and Air Force. The Cougars are picked to finish second in this year's MWC preseason poll, behind only No. 11 Colorado State. After earning MWC Freshman of the Year honors last season, sophomore Lindsy Hartsock was named a Preseason All-MWC selection.
The Cougars will look to an experienced squad featuring seven returning letterwinners combined with the talent and enthusiasm of eight newcomers and seven returning redshirts.
Hartsock, Lindsey Metcalf, Lauren Richards, April Varner, Kimberly Wilson and Lexi Brown return to the Cougars with starting experience. Mandi Kiholm, who backed up All-MWC rightside hitter Carrie Bowers last season, also returns. Each position in the Cougar lineup, except for the libero, is projected to have a starter at least 6 -feet tall.
BYU lost six players from its 2003 roster, including Bowers, All-MWC libero Uila Crabbe, senior middle blocker Laura Nielsen, all-conference as a junior, and senior outside hitter Sahara Castillo. In addition, junior liberos Melanie Togo-Hatch and Lindsey Kearl have elected to forego their remaining year of eligibility.
Despite the presence of so many returnees, the BYU roster features a relatively young lineup with 12 freshmen, including five true freshmen, two sophomores, four juniors and three seniors.
"We have a good combination of classes and that's what you strive for," Lamb said. "These freshmen all have experience and will be key for us." The following position-by-position look at the Cougars gives further insight into what might transpire on the court for the Cougars in 2004.
BYU's outside hitting triumvirate of Kimberly Wilson, Lindsey Metcalf and April Varner is back and ready for action. After each drawing starting assignments last year, the trio will be looked to for leadership both on and off the court. All three are All-MWC candidates.
Wilson, a powerful and exceptional athlete, has quickly matured into one of the Cougars' best offensive threats. She led BYU in kills (370) and attempts (901) enroute to 20 double-digit kills matches last year, including three 20-plus kill efforts.
Metcalf returns in 2004 for her senior season after starting all 33 matches in 2003. Metcalf proved one of the most versatile Cougar athletes as she led the team in kills three times, digs six times and blocks seven times last season.
Varner provided an offensive spark for the Cougars off the bench throughout the 2003 season, coming in second on the team with 3.17 kills per game. She will be counted on heavily during her senior season.
The Cougars could also enlist the help of returning letter winner Mandi Kiholm and 2002 "Fab 50" recruit Erica Lott, who redshirted last year as well as Chelsea Goodman and
Bryn Porter, both true freshman, at the outside position.
The No. 13 blocking team in the nation in 2003, BYU should be one of the top blocking teams in the country with a healthy, cohesive unit.
MWC Freshman of the Year and All-West Region Honorable Mention selection Lindsy Hartsock returns at the middle blocker position after a breakout freshman campaign. The 6-foot-4 Hartsock led the Cougars in blocks a team-high 11 times and was one of only three MWC players to rank in the top eight in at least three of six statistical categories, including blocks per game (1.21, 5th), hitting percentage (.350, 4th) and service aces per game (0.37, 7th). As a Preseason All-MWC selection, Hartsock plans to continue her dominance at the net in 2004.
Hartsock will be assisted with the blocking duties by returning letter winner Lexi Brown, who should see starting time after leading the team with a .376 attack percentage and 1.25 blocks per game. The 2004 Cougar roster also features a host of new talent at the middle position including returning redshirts Amy Hulse and Catherine Parker as well as new recruit Rachel Dyer and Kent State University transfer Jenny Weilert.
Junior setter Lauren Richards, one of the most athletic setters in the nation, will figure heavily into the Cougars' 2004 success as she quarterbacks the attack. After setting every game last year and earning All-MWC honors, Richards will have the same opportunity this season and will be expected to lead BYU's offense to the top.
Jenna Judkins, a 2003 redshirt who led Skyline High School in Salt Lake City to the 2002 Utah State 5A Championship, and Amy Schlauder, named the No. 26 recruit in the nation by prepvolleyball.com and a 2002 Junior Olympics participant, are also talented young setters.
DEFENSIVE SPECIALIST / LIBERO
With the departure of All-MWC selection Uila Crabbe and key reserve Melanie Togo-Hatch, the Cougars have large shoes to fill at the libero spot. Five different Cougars hope to see playing time this season, led by returning redshirt Lindsey Evans. The 5-9 freshman earned first-team all-state honors her senior year after leading her West Linn High School (Oregon) team to a third-place state finish.
Evans will be assisted on the Cougar back row by returning 2003 redshirts Stacie Powell and Annie Kemp. Newcomer Tessa Stimpson and San Diego City College transfer Christina Mendenhall round out BYU's libero depth chart.
Never a team to shy away from a challenge, BYU again features a tough schedule for the 2004 season. Of the Cougars' 21 opponents, 10 teams won at least 20 games last season and four teams had 30-win seasons. Overall, eight of BYU's opponents for the upcoming season qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year.
The Cougars will face five teams that finished 2003 ranked in the top 25: No. 5 UCLA, No. 7 Penn State, No. 14 Colorado State, No. 23 Utah and No. 24 Notre Dame.
Of the Cougars' 2004 opponents, BYU has a losing record against only one team, UCLA (5-22-1). BYU has split its series with Penn State to date (4-4) and has a winning record against the rest of its opponents. With its strong tradition, BYU's all-time record versus this season's opponents is a dominating 394-97-2 (.801).