BYU Gains Top-10 Ranking, Faces Utah State, Arizona and Temple | The Official Site of BYU Athletics

BYU Gains Top-10 Ranking, Faces Utah State, Arizona and Temple

After sweeping the nation's top two teams Friday and Saturday, BYU's women's volleyball team travels to Logan to face Utah State Tuesday in the first of three matches this week.

The Cougars improved their record to 6-1 with five wins last week and jumped from 17th to 10th in the AVCA/USA Today Coaches Poll with victories over then No. 1 Stanford and No. 2 Long Beach State.

After Tuesday's match with Utah State, BYU returns to Provo to face 13th-ranked Arizona Friday and Temple Saturday in the Smith Fieldhouse. Both matches start at 7 p.m.


Tuesday, Sept. 12

No. 10 BYU (6-1) at Utah State (4-3)

Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (10,270) • Logan, Utah • 7 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 15

No. 10 BYU vs. No. 13 Arizona

George Albert Smith Fieldhouse (5,000) • Provo, Utah • 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 16

No. 10 BYU vs. Temple

George Albert Smith Fieldhouse (5,000) • Provo, Utah • 7 p.m.

Scouting Utah State

BYU holds a 44-8 lead in the series that dates back to 1970. The Cougars have won the last 29 matches. Utah State's last win was a 3-0 triumph in Logan on Nov. 17, 1979 for the Region 7 championship. BYU has won nine of the last 10 matches in three games, including last year's Sept. 17th win in Provo. This year, the Aggies of the Big West Conference have a 4-3 record with wins over Rhode Island (3-0), Gonzaga (3-0), Oklahoma (3-0) and Colgate (3-0). Utah State's losses were to Montana State (2-3), Washington State (1-3) and common BYU foe Kansas State (2-3). The match with BYU is the Aggies first home match of the season. USU is 4-1 on a neutral court and 0-2 away. The Aggies hit .246 as a team while holding their opponents to a .163 attack percentage through seven matches. Former BYU defensive specialist Emily Kennedy is playing for Utah State after transferring this past summer. She has played in 17 of 26 Aggie games and has two kills, six assists, five aces and 23 digs. Utah State is coached by Tom Peterson (18-15 in second season at Utah State; 225-102 overall.)

Scouting Arizona • Ranked No. 13 in AVCA/USA Today Coaches Poll

BYU holds a 23-10 advantage over the Wildcats in the series. BYU has won three of the last four matches, including a 3-2 win last year in Tucson. BYU's last loss to the Wildcats at home was the prior match, a 3-1 Arizona win in the 1994 NCAA tournament. The Pac-10's Wildcats enter the week with a 5-1 record and will face in-state rival Arizona State Wednesday in Tempe before coming to Provo for Friday's match. Ranked No. 13, the Wildcats have wins over San Diego State (3-0), San Diego (3-1), New Mexico State (3-0), Baylor (3-0) and Santa Clara (3-0) with a lone season-opening loss to No. 14-rated UC Santa Barbara (2-3). The Wildcats are hitting a sizzling .382 as a team while holding their opponents to a .190 attack percentage. Arizona is coached by David Rubio (149-88 in his ninth year at Arizona; 269-153 in 14th year overall).

Scouting Temple

This will be the first meeting between BYU and Temple. The Owls of the Atlantic 10 Conference have a 3-4 record on the season. Last week Temple lost to No. 8 Pepperdine (1-3) and No. 6 USC (0-3) and and No. 5 Long Beach State (1-3). Their other loss was to Ohio State and they have wins over Colgate, Seton Hall and last week over Texas-San Antonio. Temple takes on Utah Friday before playing BYU Saturday. During Temple's recent west coast road trip, senior All-America candidate Alma Kovaci earned Atlantic 10 Player of the Week honors. In a three games to one loss at No. 2 Long Beach State, Kovaci recorded a double-double with 16 kills and 10 digs. As the road trip continued against ranked opponents, Kovaci turned in one killer performance after another. Playing two matches in the same day, Kovaci posted 50 kills and 14 digs at the USC MetRx Invitational and was named to the all-tournament team, her second such honor of the season. To close out the road trip, Kovaci added 16 kills in a match against Pepperdine. The Owls are coached by Bob Bertucci (120-46 in sixth year at Temple; 472-236 overall in 22nd season.

Moving Up

BYU jumped from 17th to 10th in the AVCA/USA Today Coaches Poll this week after going 5-0 last week with wins over the nation's top two teams. The Cougars received two first place votes. BYU is rated seventh in the latest Volleyball Magazine Poll.

BYU History the National Polls

BYU, who has been ranked in the USA Today/AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 poll the seventh most times of all teams in the nation, joined Colorado State of the MWC by spending the entire 1999 season ranked in the USA Today/AVCA Division I Coaches Poll, finishing the season rated 13th (CSU finished at No. 12) The Mountain West Conference joined the Pac-10, Big West and Big 12 as the only leagues to place multiple teams in the top-15. BYU has been ranked No. 1 on four occasions. Below is the list of where the Cougars have been ranked each week this year.

Date Rank

PS 15

9/5 17

9/12 10

Hitting another Michaelis Milestone

BYU coach Elaine Michaelis can reach her 850th career win with three wins this week. Second all-time in Division I victories, Michaelis is the all-time leader in wins among female coaches with an 847-210-5 record in 32 years (since records were kept in 1969).

Puikkonen Named AVCA/Sports Imports National Player of the Week

Nina Puikkonen, a 6-3 junior middle blocker from Murray, Utah, has been named the AVCA/Sports Imports Division I National Player of the Week after leading then-No. 17 BYU to a 5-0 record with three wins over top 20 teams last week.

Puikkonen, the BYU Mizuno Classic Most Valuable Player, attacked at a .400 hitting percentage for the week with wins over then-No. 1 Stanford, then-No. 2 Long Beach State, then-No. 20 Kansas State, Oral Roberts and Fairfield. She tied a career high in kills (25), had a season high in digs (12) and set a new high for aces (4) versus Long Beach State. Puikkonen, who was one dig away from a triple double against Stanford, averaged 4.63 kills, 2.32 digs, 2.16 blocks and 0.42 aces during the week, while posting a .400 attack percentage on 160 attempts.

"Nina is very deserving," BYU coach Elaine Michaelis said. "She has worked very hard to become the player she is and played a significant part in our accomplishments over the weekend. She really stepped it up against the best teams in the country."

Puikkonen becomes the second BYU player to be recognized as the national player of the week. Former Cougar middle blocker Amy Steele Gant, who went on to play for the U.S. National Team, earned the previous award, Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 1996.

Puikkonen Earns Mountain West Conference Player of the Week

Junior middle blocker Nina Puikkonen from BYU was named the Mountain West Conference Volleyball Player of the Week, marking the first time this season and the third time overall Puikkonen has earned the award.

A native of Murray, Utah, Puikkonen helped the Cougars to a 5-0 record last week, highlighted by victories over three ranked opponents. BYU stunned No. 1 Stanford Friday 15-9, 13-15, 15-6, 15-8, and came back for a five-game win over No. 2 Long Beach State (15-17, 12-15, 15-13, 15-1, 15-6) the next night to win the Mizuno Classic Championship in Provo. The Cougars started the week with a 15-9, 9-15, 15-10, 15-4 win over No. 20 Kansas State Tuesday, and recorded three-game victories over Oral Roberts (15-7, 15-8, 15-3) and Fairfield (15-9, 15-4, 15-3) in the Mizuno Classic.

Puikkonen was named the Mizuno Classic Most Valuable Player after racking up 71 kills, 34 blocks and 36 digs to go with a .397 hitting percentage in the tournament. For the week, the two-time All-America selection hit .400 (88k-24e-160a) and totaled 88 kills (4.63 per game), 44 digs (2.32 per game), 41 total blocks (2.16 per game) and eight aces (.42 per game). She tied a career high with 25 kills and set a career high with four service aces vs. No. 2 Long Beach State. Last year's Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, Puikkonen was just one dig shy of a triple-double vs. No. 1 Stanford as she finished the match with 16 kills, 10 blocks and nine digs.

For the season, Puikkonen is second in the MWC with 113 kills and 52 total blocks. She is hitting .357 on the year and averaging 4.19 kills and 1.93 blocks per game. She led the nation in blocks per game as a freshman and ranked third in that category last season.

Cougar Preview

Coach Elaine Michaelis and her Cougar team look to extend a string of 26 consecutive 20-win seasons this year with two All-Americans returning among eight letterwinners and three starters from last year's 28-5 squad. The Cougars expect to challenge for the Mountain West Conference title and make another run in the NCAA tournament. Hitting and blocking will again be BYU's strength while five outstanding hitters on the court. All six starters stand at least 6-foot tall. Inexperience at the setter position is the team's biggest question mark after losing all-time assist leader Anna-Lena Smith to graduation but redshirt freshman Karina Puikkonen has stepped in nicely thus far, averaging 12.70 assists. Headlining the Cougar roster in 2000 is two-time All-American middle blocker Nina Puikkonen, who led the nation as a freshman and finishing third nationally last year in blocking. The 6-3 junior was a unanimous selection as the inaugural Mountain West Conference Player of the Year last season while leading the conference in blocks (1.85), kills (4.29) and hitting (.373). And sophomore Sunny Tonga, the Volleyball magazine Freshman All-American and MWC Freshman of the Year in 1999, may have just given Cougar fans a glimpse of her potential while playing in 68 of BYU's 110 games last year.


BYU has won five straight matches, all at home last week, since dropping its second match of the year at current 25th-ranked Notre Dame. BYU is 0-1 in away matches this year entering its match in Logan on Tuesday vs. Utah State.

In Every Game

BYU has won 20 of 27 games this year. Its worst game loss was a 9-15 score vs. Kansas State. BYU has reached double-digit points in every other game this year. At Notre Dame BYU scored 10 points in each loss. During BYU's sweep of No. 1 Stanford and No. 2 Long Beach State the Cougars proved they were prepared for their top-ranked foes. BYU surrendered three games in the two matches but each was a battle. The Cougars dropped the second game in the Cardinal match by a 13-15 tally and the first two against Long Beach State, 15-17 and 12-15. By contrast, BYU was more dominating in its game wins, recording 15-9, 15-6 and 15-8 scores vs. Stanford and 15-13, 15-1, 15-6 wins vs. Long Beach State. BYU hit over .300 as a team in the final four games against LBSU, including .526 in game four and .400 in game five. BYU out hit LBSU .318 to .227.

Career Night

In BYU's win over Long Beach State, Nina Puikkonen tied a career-high with 25 kills and set a new high with four aces. Sunny Tonga added a career-best 21 kills. With some of BYU's power hitters having some trouble early against the tall LBSU block that included 6-foot-7 Tayyiba Haneef, BYU coach Elaine Michaelis played much of the final three games with junior Natalie Whittaker playing outside. Whittaker responded with a variety of shots to record a career-best six kills and season-high nine digs.

All-Tournament Honors

Nina Puikkonen was named the MVP of last week's BYU Mizuno Classic. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Cougar teammates Sunny Tonga and Jackie Bundy. Melissa Layton, Nina Puikkonen and Sunny Tonga were earlier named to the Shamrock Invitational All-Tournament Team.

More Nina

All-American middle blocker Nina Puikkonen nearly completed two triple-doubles and led BYU in kills in each of its five match victories this week. Puikkonen was named the BYU Mizuno Classic MVP Saturday after leading the Cougars to a come-from-behind win over No. 2-ranked Long Beach State. Puikkonen finished the match by tying her career-best with 25 kills and setting a new high with four service aces while tying a season-high 12 digs, adding seven blocks and hitting a match-high .537 attack percentage. Earlier in the day, Puikkonen had a match-high 17 kills, .652 hitting percentage and nine blocks while leading BYU to a 3-0 victory over Fairfield in a noon match. Against No. 1 Stanford, Puikkonen came one dig from a triple double with a match-high 16 kills and 10 blocks to go along with nine digs. She hit a match-best .393. In the Cougars' first match of the Mizuno Classic, a 3-0 win over Oral Roberts, Puikkonen had match highs of 13 kills and 12 digs while nearly achieving a triple-double with eight blocks. On the year, the two-time All-American is averaging 4.19 kills, 2.11 digs and 1.93 blocks with a .357 hitting percentage.

Coach Michaelis Profile

Now in her 39th year at the helm of the BYU program, Elaine Michaelis also enters her sixth year as Director of Women's Athletics. A proven winner, Michaelis is second all-time in Division I victories with an 847-210-5 record (since records were kept in 1969) and has the most wins ever by a female coach. With last year's Mountain West Conference regular season title, she has the distinction of winning the inaugural championship in each of the five leagues in which BYU has been a volleyball member. Michaelis concluded her first season in the new Mountain West Conference with a 13-1 record to improve her overall conference ledger to an incredible 334-31 -- a .915 winning percentage. With a 28-5 overall record in 1999, Michaelis posted her 26th consecutive 20-win season and her 28th in 31 years. She has never had a losing season. In 1999, her Cougar squad advanced to the NCAA East Regional Semifinals -- the fourth straight year she has guided BYU to the round of 16. She coached BYU to wins over No. 10 Pepperdine, No. 12 Colorado State, No. 14 Arizona, No. 23 Wisconsin and No. 29 Utah (twice) last year will suffering losses to No. 2 Stanford, No. 5 Florida, No. 12 Colorado State (twice) and NCAA tournament-qualifying Michigan. The Cougars' foray into the NCAA tournament was their 18th in the 19-year history of NCAA control of the sport. It also marked the 28th time BYU has participated in a national tournament. BYU's run to the NCAA regional semifinals improved Michaelis' national tournament record to 71-42 (.628).

Last Week Summary

BYU completed a perfect 5-0 week with upset wins on back-to-back nights over No.1-ranked Stanford (3-1) and No. 2 Long Beach State (3-2). The Cougars also defeated No. 20 Kansas State (3-1), Fairfield (3-0) and Oral Roberts (3-0). The Cougars hit .310 as a team during the five victories, while averaging 18.74 kills and 3.95 blocks per game. BYU held its opponents to a .146 hitting percentage. Four Cougars averaged more than three kills per game last week and three hit better than .300. Freshman setter Karina Puikkonen had an outstanding week with 14.26 assists per game while adding 1.58 digs and 1.11 blocks per contest.

Player Season/Career Highs

Kills *Hitting Assts Digs Blocks Aces

Melissa Layton 17 .538 3 14 5 6

Career same .800 5 15 14 6

Nina Puikkonen 25 .652 2 12 10 2

Career same .688 3 19 14 3

Karina Puikkonen 7 .357 67 11 8 3

Career same same same same same same

Jackie Bundy 16 .389 3 13 14 1

Career same .647 same 14 14 3

Sunny Tonga 21 .600 5 13 5 2

Career same .909** same 13 5 2

Kalani Tonga 13 .476 1 15 5 1

Career (Ut/Y) 20/13 same same 18/15 same same

Natalie Whittaker 6 .214 3 9 2

Career same same same 12 same 2

Alyssa Barrus

Career 4 .143 2 5

* minimum of 10 attempts

** BYU Record