Senior setter Lauren Richards, a preseason All-MWC candidate, returns in 2005 to help lead the Cougars in their quest for an NCAA Tournament berth. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- Fall Camp began this week for the BYU women's volleyball team, and the Cougars are not the only ones who know how good they are as BYU has been tabbed as the preseason favorite to win the Mountain West Conference and is listed No. 36 in the CSTV/AVCA Preseason Top 25 Coaches Poll.
With six returning starters among 10 letterwinners in 2005, the Cougars are already preparing to add to their 943 all-time win total and return to the NCAA Tournament for the 22nd time in the program's history. After a 19-11 season and third-place Mountain West Conference finish in 2004, this year's team is ready to raise the stakes behind first-year head coach Jason Watson and a talented collection of returners and newcomers.
"I look forward to the 2005 season as a great opportunity to build upon the foundation started in 2004," said Watson. "Our expectations are high. As we continue to respond to standards we have, and feel comfortable with our process, then the results will come."
Watson, who served as an assistant coach for the Cougars for the past three seasons, begins his first head-coaching position after nine seasons as an assistant with four different programs. He will be aided by second-year assistant coach Brooke Huebner and BYU newcomer Brent Aldridge, who has 12 years of coaching experience, most recently at MWC-foe New Mexico. Former BYU All-American Nina Puikkonen Mortensen has also joined the Cougar coaching staff in 2005 as a volunteer assistant coach.
The Cougars finished 2004 with a 9-5 MWC record, which earned them third place behind nationally ranked Colorado State and Utah. BYU swept four of its league foes, including Air Force, New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State, while splitting with Wyoming. MWC-newcomer TCU will also be a regular on the Cougar schedule for the first time since both teams competed in the WAC in 1997.
BYU will look to an experienced squad featuring 10 returning letterwinners, including three All-MWC performers, combined with the talent and enthusiasm of four newcomers and four returning redshirts.
All-MWC middle blocker Lindsy Hartsock, who has been named a preseason league Co-Player of the Year, All-MWC outside hitter Kim Wilson and all-conference setter Lauren Richards, another preseason all-MWC selection, headline a group of six returning starters, which also includes rightside hitter/middle blocker Lexi Brown, libero Lindsey Evans and outside hitter Erica Lott, the Cougars' third preseason all-conference team member. BYU will once again have a starting lineup featuring players over six feet tall at every position, excluding the libero. Other players making repeat appearances for the Cougars in 2005 include outside hitter Chelsea Goodman, setter Jenna Judkins, defensive specialist Annie Kemp and middle blocker Catherine Parker.
Despite the presence of so many returnees, the BYU roster is still relatively young with eight freshmen, including four true freshmen, six sophomores, one junior and three seniors. The younger players will be counted on to make up for the key losses of All-MWC rightside hitter Lindsey Metcalf and outside hitter April Varner, both of whom graduated in 2004.
"Our staff has a great deal of confidence in every athlete on our roster," said Watson. "Our depth enables us to compete at every position. Competition and hard work are key to our program's success. Our athletes know this and understand the commitment necessary to be a part of BYU Women's Volleyball."
The No. 5 blocking team in the nation in 2004, the Cougars will once again have a strong defensive presence with the return of All-MWC junior Lindsy Hartsock. Hartsock led the league and was second in the nation in blocks per game last season. She was one of only three players in the country to surpass 200 blocks on the year and was named the Collegiate Volleyball Update 2004 Blocker of the Year for her efforts.
Returning redshirt Rachel Dyer is expected to contribute solid play at the net during her first season on the court. Dyer was chosen to play on the USA Select team in the offseason, traveling to Argentina for two weeks. Senior Lexi Brown was second on the team in hitting percentage and third in both kills per game and blocks per game in 2004 while sophomore Catherine Parker, who started three matches last year, will also contribute to BYU's strong middle presence.
In addition, BYU could enlist the help of two newcomers this season in true freshmen Ashton Hansen and Marisa Vandersteen, both of whom were all-state selections during their high school careers.
Wilson returns for her senior season after an all-conference junior year that saw her lead the team in kills (318) as a starter. Lott, who ranked fourth in the MWC in kills per game (3.40) last year as a redshirt freshman, will figure prominently into the mix as will sophomore Chelsea Goodman, who saw action in 22 matches last year and recorded a season-high 10 kills.
Returning redshirt Bryn Porter will also compete for playing time as will newcomer Stephanie Lau, an outstanding all-around athlete.
On the rightside, the Cougars need to replace All-MWC hitter Lindsey Metcalf, a four-year starter. Brown, a traditional middle blocker, could factor in at the rightside for BYU in 2005 after recording double-digit kills in 19 matches last season.
Richards, who has shouldered the setting duties for BYU the past two seasons and ranks sixth all-time at BYU in career assists, will once again be ready to quarterback the Cougar attack. The All-MWC setter was third in the conference last season in assists per game and led the league in aces per game.
Returning redshirt Amy Schlauder, who measures 6-foot-1, will be making her Cougar debut this season at the setter position after spending last year learning the BYU offense. Rated the No. 26 recruit in the nation coming out of high school in 2004, Schlauder has the maturity and skill to make an immediate impact for the Cougars this year. Jenna Judkins, who played in seven matches last year, also returns for BYU at the setter position.
Lindsey Evans proved to be a pleasant surprise in 2004, starting at the libero position, and will be counted on this season to lead the back row. She was seventh in the MWC in digs per game and set a league record with 33 digs in a match, second all-time at BYU.
The Cougars have impressive depth at the libero position with the addition of two high school recruits, Janvier Beaumont and Lau. Both Beaumont and Lau come to BYU with solid high school credentials and have the potential to make an immediate impact on the court this year. The newcomers will be competing for playing time with sophomore Annie Kemp, who saw action in 21 games last season, and returning redshirt Tessa Stimpson, giving BYU abundant experience and talent.
The Cougars will face six teams that competed in the NCAA Volleyball Championship in 2004: No. 6 Ohio State, No. 19 Colorado St., Kansas, Pittsburgh, Nevada and Utah. Other non-conference opponents on BYU's schedule include Montana State, Idaho State and Duke as well as instate rivals Utah State, Weber State and Utah Valley State College.
The 2005 season will also mark the beginning of a regular-season series with Mountain West Conference-newcomer TCU. The Cougars and Horned Frogs have met only four times in BYU's volleyball history with the Cougars owning a 4-0 advantage.
Of the Cougars' 2005 opponents, BYU has a winning record against all of its opponents and has a good chance of competing for the Mountain West Conference title. BYU's all-time record versus this season's opponents is a dominating 418-78-1 (.843).
"I like our schedule," Watson said. "Each of our non-conference opponents is competitive within their conference, possibly competing for their conference championship. This level of play early in the season will be a great preparation for a balanced and competitive Mountain West Conference."
Four televised matches highlight the upcoming Cougar volleyball season. BYUTV will broadcast three home contests against Utah on Sept. 28, San Diego State University on Oct. 21 and Colorado State University on Nov. 11. In addition, CSTV will broadcast the UNLV match in Provo on Oct. 22.
"BYUTV has been a great support to BYU Women's Volleyball," Watson said. "Their commitment this year to broadcasting three matches is appreciated by all associated with our volleyball program. CSTV is a new avenue for us to showcase our volleyball program. Through a partnership with the Mountain West Conference, our match with UNLV will be part of their National Volleyball telecast. With four televised matches, we'll be able to reach out to our fans and share with them the excitement our program has for the future of volleyball at BYU."