With over 40 years of stellar volleyball history tradition providing the background, the 2010 BYU women’s volleyball team looks to challenge for the Mountain West Conference title in 2010 and return to the NCAA Tournament for the 25th time in Cougar history. After a fifth-place finish in MWC play in 2009, the Cougars are ready for a challenging and rewarding campaign in 2010.
“This team is hungry to win,” BYU head coach Shay Goulding said. “Some of the unfortunate losses from last year tasted so bad that these girls remember them and have an even stronger will to finish this year’s matches to the end. The new athletes coming in are well prepared; they haven’t played at this level yet, but have been playing extremely competitive volleyball up to this point. As I look down my bench, I think there are going to be a lot more athletes that I’m confident could step in and take over at any time.”
With four starters among the six letterwinners returning, BYU will have talent and experience to draw on throughout the season as the Cougars overcome the challenge of losing three starters, including libero Morgan Lloyd Sorensen, All-MWC honoree Kayla Walker, and defensive specialist Melissa Lake Wright.
“One of the biggest holes we have to fill this year is the libero spot,” Goulding said. “Morgan played a solid role last year and her passing was pretty consistent while Melissa was improving tremendously and added a very competitive element to our game.” With both Wright and Sorensen gone, the team will look to liberos and defensive specialists with no real game-time experience. “I know we have girls that can handle it, but it will certainly be one of our biggest challenges,” Goulding said.
Back to provide experience for the Cougars will be sophomore middle blocker Nicole Warner, who boasted the best hitting percentage on the team and ranked third in the MWC, averaging .346. She also led her team in blocks and ranked eighth in the MWC in blocks per set (1.22). Setter Kiana Rogers and middle blocker Christina Measom are back and better than ever for their senior years. Rogers led the team in assists in 2009 with 9.79 per set, ranking her fifth in MWC play and is the returning player with the most assists from last season (228). Measom ranked second in MWC play for blocks at 1.37 per game and played in all 110 sets for the Cougars, recording nine matches with double-digit kills.
Seven newcomers will provide depth to all positions except setter, with sophomore setter Heather Hannemann backing up Rogers. Senior middle blocker Stephanie Snow joins the Cougars as a University of Arizona transfer, while five new freshman add depth to the Cougar squad with outside hitter Taeja Afalava (South Jordan, Utah), MB/RS Kimberli Boswell (Aloha, Ore.), outside hitter/defensive specialist Coriann Clark (Bozeman, Mont.), rightside hitter Jennifer Hamson (Lindon, Utah) and outside hitter Jessica Jardine (Cedar Hills, Utah). Libero/DS Kendalyn Hartsock joins the Cougars as a sophomore walkon (Kalispell, Mont.).
“I expect our team to be ready, physically,” Goulding said. “I think right now we’re physically stronger than we started out last year and we have mentally matured quite a bit and as a group. We’re more mentally prepared to take these matches.”
A breakdown by position follows.
Back for her sophomore season, Nicole Warner will bring strength and poise to the middle. As a freshman, she boasted the best hitting percentage for the Cougars, ranking third in the MWC averaging .346. She also finished eighth in blocks in the MWC with 1.10 per set and 42nd in the nation for her overall 1.22 blocks per set. “She was tremendously consistent last year,” said Goulding. “She is playing smarter than she was last year and I think she’ll make a huge impact in the conference this year.”
After being redshirted, Kathryn LeCheminant has worked with the Cougars for a year and is ready for playing time. “Kathryn has worked really hard and matured quite a bit,” said Goulding. “She has seen the game and knows our systems, she is physically stronger than when she came in and is now hungry to play. She is going to add to the speed in the middle and will do well swinging behind the setter on the right side.”
Kimberli Boswell, a Montana All-State selection that consistently hit above .600 in high school, will provide depth to the middle or rightside for the Cougars as well.
In 2009, Measom ranked second in MWC play for blocks at 1.37 per game. She also played in all 110 sets for the Cougars, recording nine matches with double-digit kills as a middle blocker. She will be asked to provide experience and dependability to the outside in her 2010 campaign.
Improving drastically in the end of the 2009 season, Christie Carpenter will be back to dominate the outside for the Cougars. The junior tallied six matches with double-digit kills, two matches with double digit digs and one double-double last season. “Christie’s ball control and passing have improved tremendously, which has made her quite a bit more valuable,” said Goulding. “She is absolutely capable of being amazing, so if we can keep her improving, she is ready to have a solid year.”
Stephanie Snow transferred from the University of Arizona where she played middle blocker, but could be filling in on the outside or rightside for the Cougars. She played in 93 sets for the Wildcats in 2009 tallying 135 kills on a .320 clip, along with 65 total blocks (.70 blocks per set).
Casey Thurston will also be back on the outside for BYU after she recovers from knee surgery and is cleared to play. She chalked up 104 kills and 36 blocks in only 66 sets last season. “Casey always does a good job of coming off the bench and getting us back in the matches,” said Goulding.
Freshman Taeja Afalava adds depth to the front row, earning team and region MVP honors for Bingham High School last season, while freshman Coriann Clark hails from Bozeman, Mont., and led the state in outside hitter kills, along with being named All-State twice in her high school career.
After transferring from Salt Lake Community College, Camilla Phillips played in 75 sets as an outside hitter, tallying 116 kills and 49 blocks last year. After suffering her first major injury this summer, she may take a medical redshirt this season.
With many options for all of the front-row hitters, freshmen Jennifer Hamson, Kimberli Boswell and Jessica Jardine will compete with returning sophomore Lauren Sagers for the starting spot. Sagers played in two matches as a true freshman and continues to improve her game as a strong hitter.
Hamson joins BYU as a two-sport athlete, also competing in women’s basketball. She comes from a family with rich BYU tradition. Her mother, Tresa Spaulding Hamson, was inducted into the BYU Hall of Fame in 1998 for a stellar basketball career, and she has an uncle and aunt who both played volleyball for the Cougars. Hamson is a two-time MVP at Pleasant Grove High School.
Jardine will also help the Cougars on the rightside or the left side after tallying over 300 kills in her 2009 high school season at American Fork.
Coming back for her senior season, Kiana Rogers has been working hard to become her best self. After tallying nine double-doubles and 1,017 assists during the 2009 season, she looks to finish strong in her career as a Cougar. Sophomore setter Heather Hannemann is already a leader on this team. She has worked diligently to pick up the speed and consistency needed to run the court and distribute the ball well to her teammates.
“Heather’s work ethic is tremendous,” Goulding said. “She has adopted our systems very well, works her heart out and is giving Kiana a very good battle. She has the skills, and whether this year or when Kiana leaves, she’s going to be able to carry this team.”
“Kiana’s speed and locations have improved a great deal,” Goulding said. “Her setting during the end of last year and this spring is the best setting I’ve seen since I have known her. She is excited and ready to lead her team in her last season.”
With many options for back row players, Brooke Soon,Coriann Clark, Taeja Afalava, Kendalyn Hartsock, and Courtney Honka will all by vying for the libero/defensive specialist positions.
Hartsock joins the Cougars as a walkon after tallying 5.06 digs per game and 638 career digs at Flathead High School in Kalispell, Mont. Honka and Soon both know the systems at BYU and will also challenge their teammates for starting positions.
“I feel pretty good about the team we have and our system – it’s just making sure that all the players are in the right positions and performing accordingly,” said Goulding. “I know we have a lot of good athletes on the team, but it’s just a matter of figuring out what positions they will be playing.”
While there are still a lot of unknowns for the Cougars, the BYU coaching staff feels confident in the abilities of its players. “I feel like we have more options than we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Goulding said. “Even though some of the question marks (as to who plays where) are bigger than they have been in the past, I am not too concerned.”
Continuing its tradition of competitive scheduling, BYU will play eight teams that qualified for the 2009 NCAA Tournament, including four teams that were ranked in the final CSTV/AVCA Top 25 Poll. “One of my philosophies is that in order to be the best, we have to play the best,” said Goulding. The Cougars will play three regular-season conference champions (Middle Tennessee, Hawai’i and Colorado State) and nine teams that had 20-win seasons in 2009. In addition to a full slate of MWC action, the Cougars will play in three pre-season tournaments, hosting two in the Smith Fieldhouse. BYU will open the year at a tournament hosted by the University of Illinois and will face the No. 10* Fighting Illini, Middle Tennessee and South Carolina. Next the Cougars will host back-to-back tournaments on back-to-back weekends, starting with the Nike Invitational on Sept. 3-4 where they will play No. 5 Nebraska, Idaho State and Cal Poly. On Sept. 10-11 the BYU Invitational will host Loyola Marymount, the University of Houston and Wichita State. The Cougars will stay at home for a Tuesday match against Utah State on Sept. 14 before leaving the mainland to No. 3 Hawaii for two matches Sept. 17-18. “I believe that our team can absolutely steal a match from any one of these teams, but everything has to be working just right,” said Goulding. “It’s going to be a great measurement early on in the season for us to see exactly where we are and if we’re competing with these teams, and/or beating them. That will set us up for what’s most important, and that’s conference play.” Coming home, BYU will host No. 17 Colorado State to start conference play. After playing four MWC matches, the Cougars will step out of conference play to take on Utah Valley Oct. 9 and Weber State Oct. 12 on the road. BYU has a winning record against all but two its 2010 opponents with first meetings against South Carolina and Wichita State. The Cougars’ all-time record versus this year’s competition is a dominant 495-123-1 (.800).
“The goal is to win conference, one game at a time, and also to go as deep as we can into the National Tournament,” Goulding said. “We can absolutely do it. The future looks very bright.”
*Rankings used are from the final 2009 CSTV/AVCA Top 25 Poll.