BYU Faces Utah State Thursday in NCAA

BYU Earns 20th NCAA Invite, 12th Straight

No. 19 Cougars Face Utah State in First Round in Salt Lake City

The 19th-ranked BYU Cougars enter the 2001 NCAA Volleyball Championship on the road for the first time since 1984. BYU (20-8) will play in Salt Lake City and face Utah State (19-10) in a first-round match Thursday at 6 p.m.

Host Utah (23-6), ranked 13th, will play Texas Tech (18-13) at 8 p.m. in the second match at Crimson Court. The Aggies and Cougars met earlier this season in Provo, with Utah State defeating BYU in three games to end the Cougars' 20-match home winning streak. BYU has played Utah three times this season, going 1-2. The Cougars haven't played Texas Tech since 1998.

BYU will be making its 20th overall and 12th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars, one of only eight teams with 19 NCAA appearances, have advanced to the Sweet 16 in each of the last five tournaments.

BYU has an all-time record of 26-19 in NCAA Tournaments with one Final Four appearance (1993). The Cougars rank ninth in total NCAA tournament victories. BYU has hosted a NCAA tournament match ever year it has been invited except the 1984 season. In 1989 BYU did not receive an invitation to the championship.

NCAA First Round

Thursday, Nov. 29, 2001

BYU (20-8, 10-4 MWC) vs. Utah State (19-10, 12-6 Big West)

Crimson Court • Salt Lake City, Utah • 6 p.m. MT

Thursday, Nov. 29, 2001

Texas Tech (18-13, 9-11 Big 12) at Utah (23-6, 11-3 MWC)

Crimson Court • Salt Lake City, Utah • 8 p.m. MT

NCAA Second Round

Friday, Nov. 30, 2001

BYU/Utah State winner vs. Texas Tech/Utah winner

Crimson Court • Salt Lake City, Utah • 7 p.m. MT


Utah State Aggies

(19-10, 12-8 Big West)

Utah State will play in its second straight NCAA Tournament. Last year the Aggies defeated Missouri in the first round before falling to BYU in three straight games in the second round in Provo, Utah. This year Utah State is 19-10 overall and finished fourth with a 12-6 record in the highly competitive Big West Conference. Other teams from the Big West that advanced to the NCAA Tournament include top-ranked Long Beach State, 12th-ranked Pacific, and 24th-ranked UC Santa Barbara. USU is receiving votes in the poll (30th), owns a 4-9 record against 10 teams in this year's NCAA field. This year the Aggies split two matches with Pacific, while defeating Brigham Young, Cincinnati, and Arkansas and losing to Long Beach State (twice), UC Santa Barbara (twice), Hawai'i, Southern California, Utah and Colorado State. Chelsi Neves averages 12.14 assists per game and has a team-best .388 hitting percentage while Lisa Borom leads the team with 3.60 kills per game and Erin Cartwright averages 3.34 kills per contest. Michelle Matheson has a hitting percentage of .310, the second best mark on the team, and leads the squad with 1.05 blocks per game. Matheson and Neves were named first-team all-Big West while teammates Borom, Heather Olmstead and Cartwright all earned honorable mention all-league honors. Of USU's 10 losses this year, nine were at the hands of ranked teams, while the Aggies defeated two ranked teams on the year in BYU and Pacific. USU was 8-3 in its last 11 matches with the three losses coming at then 17th-ranked Pacific as well as twice to top-ranked Long Beach State.


BYU lost to Utah State last year during the regular season before defeating the Aggies in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Aggies defeated BYU 3-0 (30-26, 30-23, 30-21) this year (Oct. 16) in Provo to end the Cougars' 20-match home winning streak. BYU is 45-10 against Utah State all-time.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

(18-13, 9-11 Big 12)

The Texas Tech volleyball team earned its second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid on Monday afternoon and will play Utah in the first-round at 8 p.m. on Crimson Court. Texas Tech is 18-13 on the year and went 9-11 in the Big 12 Conference. They have won five of the last eight matches, with losses to Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri. Texas Tech was one of eight Big 12 teams to receive bids to this year's NCAA Tournament including Nebraska, Texas A&M, Kansas State, Colorado, Missouri, Texas and Baylor. Texas Tech redshirt freshman Kelly Johnson was named the 2001 Big 12 Volleyball Newcomer of the Year on Monday. Junior outside hitter Melissa McGehee was also rewarded by the coaches as an honorable mention selection. Johnson, a 5-10 redshirt freshman from Fort Worth, set a school kill record this season as she tallied 379 kills surpassing Ann Romjue's mark of 347 set during the 1999 season. Johnson finished the season with 222 digs, 16 service aces 35 blocks. Melissa McGhee, a 5-9 junior outside hitter from Kerrville, was named to the honorable mention team after finishing the 2001 season with 382 kills and 382 digs.


BYU is 2-2 all-time against Texas Tech. The Cougars won the last meeting in Provo in 1998.

Utah Utes

(23-6, 11-3 Mountain West)

The Utes are currently 23-6 overall, and finished with an 11-3 Mountain West Conference record. Last week, the 13th-ranked Utes defeated Fairfield in a five-game (24-30, 30-19, 27-30, 30-23, 15-7), come from behind battle to clinch third place at the Banker's Classic, on Sat., Nov. 24 in Stockton, Calif. Utah lost to Hawaii, 3-2 (24-30, 30-19, 27-30, 30-23, 15-7), on Fri., Nov. 23 in Stockton, Calif. Utah finished the regular-season in second-place in the MWC. The second-place finish is the highest finish ever in the Launiere era. Utah recorded its sixth-consecutive and 12th overall 20-win season. The Utes' 23-6 overall record marks the best win-loss percentage (.793) in school history. Head coach Beth Launiere hit the 225 career win mark in the MWC tournament championship, with a 3-2 win over No. 8 ranked Colorado State. Possible starters for the Utes in the NCAA Tournament are: McKelle Stilson (Sr., MB), Kelsie Kartchner (Fr., S) or Jackie Morrill (So., S/DS), Lenka Urbanová (Sr., OH), Sylva Strzinková (Jr., OH), Katrena Ellett (Jr., OH/MB), Alisa Geddes (Sr., OH), Kim Turner (So., MB) and Adrianne Bradley-Drake (Sr., MB/OH). The Utes return four starters, 10 letterwinners and add three true freshmen, along with two transfers to this year's roster.


As members of the Mountain West Conference, BYU and Utah have played three times this season. They split home victories during the regular season and then Utah defeated BYU in Provo in the MWC Tournament Semifinals. Utah has won the past two matches - the only time in the series dating to 1970 that Utah has earned consecutive victories. Utah also has a two-match win streak over BYU on Crimson Court (last year and this season) to achieve back-to-back home wins over BYU for the first time since 1980 and 1981. Utah has won three straight at home only once in the series, also winning in 1979. BYU leads the overall series 61-9. BYU is 30-2 in Provo, 19-7 in Salt Lake City and 12-0 on a neutral floor in the series.


BYU Last Year in the NCAA First and Second Rounds

BYU def. Hofstra, 3-0 -- Led by a solid offensive effort from All-American Nina Puikkonen, the BYU women's volleyball team began NCAA Tournament play with a 15-3, 15-10, 15-6 win over Hofstra at home in the Smith Fieldhouse. Hofstra finishes the season at 23-11. Puikkonen was one of four Cougars to record double-digit kills in the match, tallying 16 kills with just one attack error on her way to a .682 hitting percentage. Middle blocker Jackie Bundy also had 16 kills, and recorded a match-high 10 blocks to lead a strong Cougar defensive effort. BYU recorded 17 team blocks to just four for the visiting Lady Dutch. BYU jumped on Hofstra early, opening the match with a 10-0 run. The Cougars went on the win the first game 15-3. Midway through the second game, Hofstra opened up a 10-6 lead. But repeated hitting errors by the Lady Dutch allowed BYU to score the next nine points to take the second game. The BYU defense proved to be too much in the third game, as the Cougars tallied 12 block assists and held Hofstra to a negative attack percentage (-.125) in the final frame.

BYU def. Utah State, 3-0 -- Avenging an early season loss to in-state rival Utah State, BYU defeated the Aggies 15-9, 15-10, 15-10 at the Smith Fieldhouse to move on the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament. The Cougars improved their overall record to 26-6 with the win, while the Aggies finish their season at 22-10. All-American Nina Puikkonen was one of four BYU players to record double-digit kills on the night, finishing the match with 14 kills and seven blocks. Sophomore Sunny Tonga had 13 kills for the match, and Jackie Bundy and Kalani Tonga added 10 kills each. Utah State led 9-8 in the first game before BYU scored the next seven points to take the game. Feeding off the strength of a solid front line that recorded 17.5 team blocks, the Cougars managed to slow down the Utah State offense in the second and third games, holding the Aggies to under a .100 hitting percentage in the final frames. BYU recorded five service aces for the match, including three timely winners by senior Melissa Layton.

BYU in the NCAA Tournament

• This is the 12th straight season the Cougars have qualified for the NCAA Tournament. They have also qualified for the tournament in 20 of the 21 all-time NCAA Tournaments. The only year BYU failed to qualify was 1989 when they finished the season 24-11. Despite the record, BYU failed to earn one of the 17 at-large bids.

• Prior to this year's tournament, BYU has hosted its opening NCAA tournament match each of the past 11 seasons and every year BYU has been invited to the tournament except 1984. BYU lost in three games to San Diego State that year in San Diego. BYU did not get invited to the tournament in 1989.

• BYU has hosted the regional round of the tournament only twice. BYU hosted the Southwest Regional (its first match after an opening round bye) in the first-ever tournament in 1981, losing to UCSB in five games. In 1986, the Cougars were ranked No. 1 after the regular season and hosted both the first round and the West Regional. BYU beat Washington in the first round and Arizona State in the regional semifinal before losing at home to Stanford in the regional final.

• BYU has advanced to the regional semifinals for five straight years. The Cougars earned a regional finals appearance in three of the last five seasons, having lost in the semifinals the past two seaons.

• BYU has advanced to the NCAA Final Four once, beating UCLA in Los Angeles in the 1993 West Regional Final to advance to Madison, Wis., and a national semifinal match against Penn State. The Cougars didn't reach the title match, losing to the Lions in a close four-game contest.

• BYU's highest finish in the NCAA Tournament was 1993 when the Cougars lost to Penn State in a national semifinal at the Final Four hosted by Wisconsin.

• BYU is ninth all-time in NCAA wins with a 26-19 NCAA Tournament record.


The 2001 Cougars are 20-8 and have won eight of their last 12. They lost their last match at No. 1 Long Beach State They are led by first-team AVCA All-American middle blocker Nina Puikkonen and NCAA All-West Region rightside hitter Sunny Tonga Mahe. Mahe is a junior in 2001 while Puikkonen is one of three seniors returning with significant court experience. She is joined by fellow seniors Jackie Bundy, an All-MWC middle blocker who finished 12th nationally in blocking last year, and Natalie Whittaker, BYU's top reserve last season. The Cougars also return setter Karina Puikkonen, who earned all-conference honors last year as a freshman. While Michaelis returns four all-conference starters, she will need to replace the services of starting outside hitters Melissa Layton and Kalani Tonga. Reserve middle blocker Alyssa Barrus and backup setter Martha Brinton also won't return in 2001. Both players decided to leave on an 18-month mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with Barrus to serve in Washington, D.C. and Brinton in Switzerland. Whittaker, junior transfer Allison Holsten Larson and the redshirt freshman tandem of Lindsey Steele and Becky Warnick all are talented players with the potential to fill the void left on the outside. Freshman Lauren Richards could play outside or setter. A solid freshmen recruiting class join sophomore Carrie Bowers (middle blocker/rightside hitter), sophomore Uila Crabbe (defensive specialist) and junior Michelle Mahaffey (defensive specialist) to provide Michaelis with a strong supporting cast. Last year, the Cougars were ranked second nationally in blocking and eighth in hitting and should continue to excel in those categories in 2001. With Karina Puikkonen having a year of experience on her resume and setting many of the same hitters, BYU's offense should again be one of the nation's most potent. The Cougar block could be the nation's best with Puikkonen and Bundy in the middle.


BYU went 1-1 last week with a win over Cal Poly and a four-game loss at No. 1 Long Beach State. The Cougars ended LBSU's 41-game win streak, the seventh-longest single season streak in NCAA history, with their 30-25 win in game two Saturday. BYU closed game two on an 11-4 run. The Cougars came close to pushing the match to five games before losing 30-28 while trying to even game four up at 29.


BYU players made a good showing on the Mountain West Conference all-conference and all-tournament teams. BYU garnered four spots an the all-conference team with sisters Nina (MB) and Karina (S) Puikkonen, AVCA/ Sports Imports National Player of the Week Sunny Mahe (OH) and Uila Crabbe (DS). In the MWC tournament, Nina Puikkonen and Crabbe returned to the spotlight, despite losing in the semifinals.


BYU finished the regular season at 20-8. The Cougars have achieved 20 wins or more in 28 consecutive seasons.


BYU is 14-3 this year in three-game matches. The Cougars are 4-3 when going four games and 2-2 in five-game contests.


Senior middle blocker Nina Puikkonen was named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Week along with Colorado State's Courtney Cox on Oct. 29. Puikkonen led BYU to three road wins, averaging 5.00 kills, 2.30 digs, 2.30 blocks and hitting .438 for the week. She had the Cougars' top attack percentage and totaled team bests of 50 kills and 23 blocks. She was third with 23 digs behind team-leader Natalie Whittaker's 26 and DS Uila Crabbe's 25. After recording 24 kills, 14 digs, eight blocks and a .500 attack percentage in a tough five-game loss at No. 18 Utah, Puikkonen continued her hot play. She started the week by nearly putting up another triple-double with 21 kills, a season-high 18 digs and nine blocks while hitting .400 at Sacramento State. At Air Force, Puikkonen again had match highs with 17 kills and 10 blocks (equaling a season high) in just three games while hitting a season-best .609. Puikkonen recorded 12 kills, five digs and four blocks while hitting .318 against New Mexico.


The Cougars lost a regular season match to Colorado State in Provo for the first time since 1984 with the 24-30, 28-30, 27-30 defeat. Having lost its prior home match to Utah State (0-3) on Oct. 16, BYU suffered consecutive home losses for the first time since September 1996 when the Cougars lost three straight to Pacific, Pepperdine and Long Beach State. It marked the first time since September of 1992 that BYU had been swept in consecutive home matches (swept in three straight matches by UCLA, Florida and Stanford). In BYU's 33-year recorded history, the Cougars have only had eight occasions when they have suffered a multiple-match home losing streak. The Cougars longest home losing streak is four matches (lost to USC last match of 1991, then lost three straight in first three home matches of 1992 to UCLA, Florida and Stanford).


BYU finished regular MWC play with a 10-4 record. In the conference tournament, the Cougars beat Wyoming in three games in the the first match. Facing Utah in the semifinals, BYU fell in four close games. The Utes advanced to the championship match and defeated No. 1 seed Colorado State for the league tournament title. Overall, BYU has a 357-38 (.904) series record against MWC teams.


Nina Puikkonen recorded a team-leading 12 double-doubles so far this season for the Cougars.


Puikkonen is fifth all-time at BYU in kills, second all-time in total blocks and block assists and is the school's leader in blocks per game. She needs three more block solos to move into a third-place tie with Jill Plumb.


Freshman outside hitter Lauren Richards set a career high with 20 kills vs. No. 1 Long Beach State last week. Recruited as a setter, she came out of a redshirt year to play outside after sitting out the first 10 matches.


BYU coach Elaine Michaelis has coached 1,116 recorded (since 1969) matches. She has won nearly 80 percent of those matches, with 887 wins. She is second in all-time Division I victories.


All-American senior middle blocker Nina Puikkonen and fellow senior middle blocker Jackie Bundy have each recorded one triple-double of the year. Bundy had her first career triple-double in BYU's win over No. 23 Colorado. She totaled 15 kills, 12 digs and a season-high 10 blocks on the night. Puikkonen had her fourth career triple-double last week with career highs of 32 kills and 20 digs along with a season-high 11 blocks. Two of her triple-doubles were recorded last season, both against the University of Utah.


BYU is a member of the Mountain West Conference. Four teams, BYU, Colorado State, Utah and San Deigo State were invited to this year's tournament. Six of the eight MWC programs have competed in postseason action over the years while the other two programs have only been in competition since 1996. Since the MWC was founded in 1999, BYU, Colorado State and Utah have represented the conference in the last three NCAA tournaments. Last year all three teams were ranked in the top 20. Overall, BYU has made 20 NCAA appearances and Colorado State has made 13. The MWC was one of just five conferences to send four or more teams to the NCAA Tournament. The Big 12 led all conferences with eight teams selected. The Big Ten, and Pacific-10 conferences each placed six teams in the field, followed by the Mountain West and Big West conferences with four.