MWC Coach of the Year Jason Watson led the Cougars to their first league title since 1999 and their 22nd NCAA Tournament berth. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
Under first-year head coach Jason Watson, the Cougars returned to the ranks of national contenders in 2005 with a 25-4 overall record and their 22nd NCAA Tournament appearance while bringing home their first Mountain West Conference regular-season title since 1999 with a 14-2 mark in league play.
"It was important for our program to return to the postseason and to experience success on a national level," said Watson, who was named the MWC Coach of the Year. "Coming into the 2005 season I felt we had a chance to be a good team, a team that could have a successful preseason, compete within our conference and put ourselves in a position to make the NCAA Tournament. I believe our athletes shared in that goal. It was a very productive season."
BYU made noise early on with a 20-0 start, its best since 1977, while steadily rising to No. 12 in the nation in the AVCA / CSTV Top 25 Coaches Poll, the Cougars' highest ranking since 2000. Of BYU's nine nonconference opponents, five received invitations to the 2005 NCAA Tournament, including then-No. 14 Ohio State, whom the Cougars defeated in five games to bring home the Buckeye Classic Tournament title. BYU also recorded victories over NCAA invitees Nevada, Kansas, Utah State and Duke in addition to defeating Montana State, Idaho State, Utah Valley State and Weber State in nonleague action.
MWC play began early for BYU as the league welcomed conference-newcomer TCU into the fold and moved to a nine-week schedule. The Cougars recorded tough five-game wins at New Mexico and Air Force at the end of September before returning home to defeat in-state rival Utah. The four-game win marked BYU's first over the Utes in 10 tries dating back to 2001.
A sweep of TCU to open the month of October proved prophetic as the Cougars put together a string of eight straight three-game wins, including BYU's first sweep of Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colo., since 1988. The Cougars looked unstoppable as they rolled through league play and racked up a 20-0 record through the first two months of the season.
On Nov. 4, BYU headed north for a rematch with Utah on the Crimson Court and found itself on the other end of the sweep with a three-game loss, its first of the year. The Cougars received more bad news the next day as a water pipe under the Smith Fieldhouse broke, flooding the entire building, including BYU's Elaine Michaelis Court, and forcing the Cougars to move to the Marriott Center for practice and for their weekend matches against CSU and Wyoming. Anxious to avenge their earlier loss, the Rams came out firing on all cylinders, winning the first two games and forcing BYU to come from behind. The Cougars responded to tie the match at two games apiece but could not hold off CSU in game five, losing 17-15.
However, BYU got back on track with two more sweeps and a four-game win over UNLV to end the season, winning the outright MWC title and earning the top seed heading into the conference tournament. The Cougars advanced to the semifinals with a sweep of TCU but had a tougher time against Tournament-host UNLV in the second round, allowing the Rebels to come back from two games down to force a fifth game. BYU fought off match point at 14-12 and eventually triumphed 16-14 to set up a rematch between BYU and Utah for the MWC Tournament title. The Cougars fought hard but could not come up with the victory, losing in four games to the Utes.
On their way home from Las Vegas, the Cougars received word that they would be making their 22nd NCAA Tournament appearance, facing Pepperdine in the first round at USC. BYU entered the match with high hopes but suffered a four-game defeat at the hands of the Waves, ending the season with a 25-4 record and listed just out of the final rankings at No. 26 in the nation.
As a team, BYU was ranked 17th in the country and first in the MWC with a .274 hitting percentage. The Cougars also led the league in kills with 16.09 per game and finished among the top four teams in the conference in four other statistical categories, including assists (14.60, second), opponent hitting percentage (.165, second), blocks (2.70, third) and digs (14.26, fourth).
Cougar middle blocker Lindsy Hartsock had another outstanding year for BYU as she finished the season ranked second in the nation in hitting percentage at .444 and was sixth in the MWC in blocks per game at 1.23. Hartsock hit .500 or above in 15 of 29 matches, leading BYU in that category in 13 matches while pacing the Cougars in blocks 14 times and kills four times. For her effort, Hartsock was named the MWC Player of the Year and received AVCA All-America Honorable Mention recognition.
BYU also saw the emergence of two outside-hitting powerhouses in Chelsea Goodman and Erica Lott this season. The sophomore duo was ranked one and two, respectively, in the MWC in kills per game throughout the season as Goodman finished with 4.25 kpg and Lott averaged 4.05 kpg. Goodman's mark, which helped her record a team-leading 14 double-doubles and hit 20 or more kills five times, was the highest Cougar season average since Nina Puikkonen recorded 4.29 kpg in 1999. For their efforts, Goodman and Lott were both named to the All-MWC team in addition to numerous other season awards, including an MWC Player of the Week award and MWC All-Tournament honors for Goodman and Buckeye Classic All-Tournament accolades for Lott.
The Cougars said goodbye to two seniors at the conclusion of the season as Lauren Richards Evans and Lexi Brown Patterson completed their eligibility after successful Cougars careers. With a 12.29 career assist average and 4,056 career assists, Richards Evans is third and fourth, respectively, all-time at BYU in those categories and garnered three All-MWC selections during her illustrious career. She was named to the AVCA West All-Region team following her senior season after leading the league and finishing 19th in the nation in assists per game with 13.12, which ranks third in BYU history. She also helped the Cougars hit .274 on the year, which ranked 17th in the country.
Brown Patterson moved to the rightside in 2005 after playing middle blocker for the previous three years and contributed solid play, adding 1.54 kpg on .221 hitting and leading BYU in hitting percentage seven times and blocks twice.