All-Mountain West Conference selection Lauren Richards returns in 2004 as the Cougars look to make back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
After making their 19th NCAA Tournament appearance in 2003, the Cougars are looking to build on the success of last season and continue BYU's winning volleyball tradition in 2004.
"We have a lot more confidence coming into this season," 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 that will work hard to be their best."
The Cougars will look to an experienced squad featuring eight returning letterwinners combined with the talent and enthusiasm of seven newcomers and seven returning redshirts.
"We have a good combination and that's what you strive for," BYU head coach Karen Lamb said. "These freshmen all have experience and will be key for us. Their development will progress throughout the summer and then we'll decide where they fit in."
Despite losing four seniors from a team that went 24-9 in 2003 and made a second-round appearance at the NCAA tourney before losing at No. 2 Hawaii, Lamb is optimistic for the coming season and the performance of her players.
BYU's outside hitting triumvirate of Kimberly Wilson, April Varner and Lindsey Metcalf 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 early All-MWC candidates.
Sophomore setter Lauren Richards, one of the most athletic setters in the nation, will also 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.
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 Lindsy Hartsock returns at the middle blocker position as well as returning letterwinner Lexi Brown. 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 Hartsock, the Cougars will choose their starters from a pool of players that include rightside hitter Mandi Kiholm (6-1), Brown (6-1), Metcalf (6-0), Varner (6-0), Wilson (6-0) and Richards (6-0).
The Cougars also have a host of new talent in the form of four newcomers and seven returning redshirts, headlined by "Fab 50" recruit Erica Lott, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker from Orem, Utah who redshirted last season. BYU's 2003 recruiting class of Rachel Dyer, Chelsea Goodman, Bryn Porter and Amy Schlauder was recently ranked No. 19 in the nation by prepvolleyball.com. Redshirt freshman Lindsey Evans should see playing time at the libero spot with junior Melanie Togo-Hatch.
BYU has lost five players from its 2003 roster. All-MWC libero Uila Crabbe and All-MWC rightside hitter Carrie Bowers departed with a senior class that included middle blocker Larua Nielsen and outside hitter Sahara Castillo. Junior libero Lindsey Kearl has elected to fore-go her remaining year of eligibility.