No. 14 Cougars look to even season series with No. 20 Utes
PROVO -- Coming off an upset sweep of third-ranked Colorado State, BYU looks to solidify second place in the Mountain West Conference race and even its season series with rival Utah Friday when the 14th-ranked Cougars host No. 20 Utah at the Smith Fieldhouse at 7 p.m.
BYU, 17-6 overall and 9-2 in Mountain West Conference matches, lost to Utah (17-5, 8-3 MWC) in the previous meeting this year in Salt Lake City as the Utes ended a string of nine straight Cougar wins in the series. BYU is coming off home wins over Wyoming and Colorado State while the Utes split the homestand, suffering a loss to then third-ranked CSU. The Cougars maintain a one-match advantage in the conference standings over the Utes but could lose a second-place tiebreaker if they drop a second match to Utah Friday.
BYU MATCHES THIS WEEK
Friday, Nov. 3
No. 14 BYU (17-6) vs. No. 20 Utah (17-5)
George Albert Smith Fieldhouse (5,000)Â• Provo, Utah Â• 7 p.m. MST
Friday's BYU vs. Utah volleyball match will be televised live on KBYU-TV, channel 11, in Utah and is also being broadcast on BYU-TV (available on Dish Network 500). Kathy Aiken will call the play-by-play action and Amy Gant, the former Cougar All-American and U.S. National Team player, will add commentary and analysis.
Tonga Named MWC Volleyball Player of the Week
BYU's Sunny Tonga, a sophomore rightside hitter, was named the Mountain West Conference Volleyball Player of the Week Monday, marking the first time she has earned the award. A native of Allen, Texas, Tonga helped the Cougars to a 2-0 record last week, highlighted by a three-game upset over No. 3 Colorado State in Provo Saturday (15-1, 15-4, 15-11). She hit .333 (6k-1e-15a) vs. the Rams, and totaled a season-high .679 (20k-1e-28a) hitting percentage in a 3-1 victory over Wyoming (13-15, 15-1, 15-5, 15-11). For the week, Tonga committed only two errors while hitting .558 with 26 kills, 14 digs, seven blocks and a pair of service aces. The 1999 MWC Freshman of the Year, Tonga is second on the team with 3.22 kills per game and ranks fifth in the conference with a .327 hitting percentage this season. Tonga's honor marks the third time this year a Cougar has been recognized as the top conference player. She is the second Cougar to earn the award this season, joining two-time winner Nina Puikkonen, an All-American middle blocker and reigning MWC Player of the Year.
Series Notes vs. Utah
BYU is 58-7 vs. Utah in the all-time series dating back to 1970. The Cougars lost to the Utes for the first time in the last 10 outings, dropping all three games in Salt Lake City on Oct. 6. In addition to ending a nine-mach winning streak against Utah, the loss also halted four straight Cougar wins in Salt Lake City. BYU had won the last six matches with Utah without dropping a game. Before the loss this year, the last time Utah took a game from BYU was in a 3-1 BYU win in Salt Lake on Oct. 29, 1996. The previous match victory for Utah in the series was a 3-0 win in Salt Lake on Sept. 22, 1995. Overall, BYU maintains a 19-6 record in Salt Lake against the Utes and is 28-1 at home and 11-0 on a neutral
court. BYU's lone loss at home to Utah was a five-game defeat to the Utes during the 1985 BYU Invitational on Sept. 21.
BYU Suffers Rare Conference Defeat
BYU's loss at Utah was its first to the Utes since 1995 and marks the first time since 1995 that the Cougars have suffered more than one regular season conference defeat. In the last four conference seasons, BYU has finished with records of 13-1, 13-1, 13-1 and 15-1, respectively, either winning the league or claiming a share of first-place.
Scouting Utah Â• Ranked No. 20 AVCA/USA Today
Utah is 17-5 overall and 8-3 in Mountain West Conference play. The Utes are ranked 20th in the nation and are currently a win behind BYU in third place in the Mountain West standings. A win over BYU would pull the Utes into a second-place tie with BYU and an edge in the tiebreaker for seeding purposes for the Mountain West Conference tournament. Utah's three conferences losses are to San Diego State and twice to league leader Colorado State. The Utes have a win over then-No. 1 Stanford, which earned Utah its first-ever national ranking (18th in the USA Today/AVCA Top 25 poll). Last week, Colorado State swept Utah for the second time this season on Friday. The Rams out hit Utah .333 to .109. Utah's unfamiliar starting lineup may have been a factor vs. CSU. Ute starter McKelle Stilson did not play, and Alisa Geddes saw limited action. Utah bounced back for a four-game win over Wyoming Saturday as Lenka Urbanova posted her fifth double-double of the season vs. the Cowgirls with 10 kills and 13 digs. Utah's Jen Snow-Richards totaled a match-high 14 kills and a .619 hitting percentage. Utah has played seven ranked teams this season and have a 3-4 record in those matches, including wins over then-No. 1-ranked Stanford in five games on Sept. 5, then-No. 24-ranked San Diego on Sept. 9, and BYU in the last meeting Oct. 6). Utah suffered an upset loss on the heels of the BYU win at nationally ranked Utah State (1-3). Utah has gone 4-3 since its win over the Cougars in Salt Lake City. The Utes return five starters among 12 letterwinners from last year's NCAA tournament team. The Utes are led by McKelle Stilson (Jr., MB), who averages 3.01 kills per game with a .287 attack percentage, and Kim Turner (Fr., MB), who adds 2.79 kills and a .273 hitting percentage. Other top players include Jen Snow-Richards (Sr., OH), Lucie TurkovÃ¡ (Sr., S), Katrena Ellett (So., MB), Alisa Geddes (Jr., OH), Brooke Barton (Sr., OH/DS), and Adrianne Bradley-Drake (Jr., OH/DS). Utah is coached by Beth Launiere, who enters the week with a 196-143 overall record in her 11th year, all at Utah.
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 look to make another run in the NCAA tournament. Hitting and blocking is again a strength with five outstanding hitters on the court. All six starters stand at least 6-foot tall. Inexperience at the setter position is has been 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 12.73 assists while hitting .349. Headlining the Cougar roster in 2000 is two-time All-American middle blocker Nina Puikkonen, who again ranks among the nation's best blockers (she led the nation as a freshman and finishing third as a sophomore). 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). Along with the Puikkonen sisters, BYU returns sophomore Sunny Tonga, the Volleyball magazine Freshman All-American and MWC Freshman of the Year in 1999, with her sister Kalani Tonga, and Melissa Layton and Jackie Bundy.
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 858-215-5 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 (now 343-33). 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).
Notables from Last Week
Â• In both matches last week, BYU hit over .300 as a team. It is the fourth consecutive match that has seen the Cougars hit higher than .300 as a team. Against Wyoming, the Cougars finished with a .328 hitting percentage and had a .318 hitting percentage against No. 3 Colorado State.
Â•The BYU defense was also solid last week. The Cougars held both teams to hitting percentages near .000. Wyoming finished its four-game match with BYU with a .050 hitting percentage. No. 3 Colorado State, who came into the match hitting .323 as a team, hit a season-low -.021 against the Cougars.
Â• The Cougars finished the week with four players that finished with a hitting percentage higher than .350. Tonga led the team at .558, while Karina Puikkonen (.474), Natalie Whittaker (.400) and Nina Puikkonen (.351) each finished the week higher than .350.
Â• In the upset victory over Colorado State, junior middle blocker Jackie Bundy finished with 10 kills, six blocks and a career-high .769 hitting percentage. She was also one of the middle blockers who was instrumental in keeping Colorado State's Angela Knopf, the nation's leading percentage hitter, to a .083 attack percentage.
Â• BYU is the only Mountain West Conference team to defeat Colorado State in the last two seasons. BYU defeated the Rams in the two regular-season conference matches in the Smith Fieldhouse the last two seasons. The Rams defeated BYU in the championship of the conference tournament last season in the Smith Fieldhouse.
Â• The Cougars broke a 19-match winning streak for the Rams. Colorado State had also won its last 40 consecutive games. Both streaks are school records.
Highlighting Several Highs
Several Cougars had season- or career-best efforts during BYU's two wins last week. Karina Puikkonen hit a career-high .455 attack percentage against Wyoming with five kills in 11 attempts without an error. Sunny Tonga was one off her career high with 20 kills against the Cowgirls while hitting a personal season-best .679 hitting percentage with only one error in 28 attempts. Her 20 kills set a new BYU high this year in a four-game match. Natalie Whittaker set a career best vs. Wyoming with a .400 hitting percentage (5k-1e-10a) and was one off her best-ever six kills. She also equaled her best blocking effort with two block assists and was one shy of her career high in digs with a match-high 11 defensive gems to set a new season high. Kalani Tonga also tied a season best with five block assists vs. Wyoming. After having a tough match vs. Wyoming (8k-8e-24a, .000), Jackie Bundy responded by blistering Colorado State with 10 kills in 13 attempts with no errors for a career- and BYU season-best .769 attack percentage.
One, Two, Three ...
With BYU's dominating three-game win over No. 3 Colorado State last week (15-1, 15-4, 15-11) the Cougars have now defeated a No. 1-, No. 2- and No. 3-ranked team this season with wins over Stanford, Long Beach State and the Rams.
BYU Plays Nation's Best
Last week's win over No. 3 Colorado State marked the eighth time this season the Cougars have played a team ranked in the top 20 (4-4 record, with other wins over Stanford, LBSU and Kansas State). BYU has also played two other teams, both losses, who were not ranked at the time but have since moved into the top 25 (Notre Dame and Utah State). BYU also defeated then No. 27 Clemson. The Cougars still face No. 15 UC Santa Barbara and seek to avenge a loss to No. 20 Utah this week.
Mountain West Conference Tournament Approaching
Two weeks remain in the regular season before the Mountain West Conference tournament is played in Fort Collins, Colo., Nov. 16-18. The host Rams should win their first regular season title and maintain the top seed while BYU and Utah are battling for a second-place seeding.
Nina Puikkonen, who has earned AVCA Sports Imports National Player of the Week and twice Mountain West Conference Player of the Week honors this year, has recorded a team-leading five double-doubles this year. She last accomplished the feat with 14 kills and a season-high 16 digs at Pepperdine. Puikkonen has had double-digit kills in 20 of 23 matches this year, double-figures blocks twice and two-digit digs three times. Jackie Bundy, Karina Puikkonen and Kalani and Sunny Tonga each have two double-doubles, including Jackie's 13-kills, 13-digs effort and Karina's 66 assists and 10 digs at Pepperdine. Kalani had 10 kills and 10 digs against nationally ranked Arizona. She just missed a third double-double with 14 digs and nine kills vs. Fairfield while Sunny was one dig away vs. Wyoming Friday (20 kills) and against New Mexico (13 kills). Kalani has had 10 or more digs a team-leading six times this year. Melissa Layton has one double-double but has come close on other occasions (9 kills with 14 digs vs. Notre Dame and 10 digs with 9 kills vs. New Mexico).
BYU has a four-match winning streak and has won eight straight at home. The Cougars' longest win streak of the year is five matches. BYU lost back-to-back matches to end the five-match streak, the first time since 1997 that the Cougars have suffered consecutive losses.
In its 23 matches, BYU had won 55 of 79 games. BYU has scored double-digit points in 68 of its 79 games (in 13 of 24 games lost).
Puikkonen Moving Up Career Charts
It took junior middle blocker Nina Puikkonen just 289 games to top 1,000 kills, averaging 3.79 kpg. The Cougar co-captain has 319 kills (4.04 kpg) this season to bring her career total to 1,131 in two-plus seasons. She needs 60 more kills to move past Michele Fellows (1190 kills from 1990-93) into 7th place on BYU's all-time list. Dylann Duncan (1985-88) tops the list at 2,188 career kills. Puikkonen has 137 blocks this year while ranking third in the nation with a 1.73 average per game. She has moved from fifth into third on the all-time BYU blocks list with 572 career blocks. She is on pace to have a shot at Duncan's BYU-best 888 career blocks.
Puikkonen On Fire Lately
Puikkonen had a team-best 30 kills last week in seven games while hitting .351. She also averaged 1.43 digs and a team-high 1.57 blocks. She finished the previous week with 49 kills (4.90 kpg) and a .389 hitting percentage in the three matches. She also had seven service aces (0.70 sapg), 32 digs (3.20 dpg), 14 blocks (1.40 bpg) in only 10 games. In the BYU's wins against UNLV and San Diego State he averaged 5.83 kills per game. She hit .508 combined in the two conference matches. Puikkonen had a match-high 23 kills (season-high for three-game match), five blocks and career-best five aces along with nine digs in BYU's three-game win at San Diego State. She also hit a team high .629 attack percentage, her second-best total of the season. Puikkonen had 12 kills, six blocks, two aces and seven digs against UNLV while hitting .333. She had 14 kills and a season-high 16 digs with three blocks at Pepperdine.
Puikkonen Named MWC Player of the Week for Second Time
Junior middle blocker Nina Puikkonen was named the Mountain West Conference Volleyball Player of the Week Oct. 16, marking the second time this season and the fourth time overall Puikkonen has earned the award. A native of Murray, Utah, Puikkonen helped the Cougars to a 2-0 record last week with victories over Air Force and New Mexico. She totaled 12 kills and five total blocks in a 15-5, 15-1, 15-1 win over Air Force, and followed with 11 kills, eight digs, three solo blocks and two block assists in a 15-6, 15-1, 15-0 win over the Lobos. For the week, Puikkonen hit .459 (26k-3e-37a) and averaged 3.83 kills per game. She has recorded 10 or more kills in 15 matches this season and currently ranks No. 8 on the BYU all-time kill list with 1,052 career kills. The NCAA leader for blocks per game the past three weeks, Puikkonen was named MWC Player of the Week and the AVCA/Sports Imports Division I National Player of the Week Sept. 11. Puikkonen was a second-team AVCA All-America selection and the MWC Player of the Year in 1999.
Puikkonen Named AVCA/Sports Imports National Player of the Week
Nina Puikkonen, a 6-3 junior middle blocker from Murray, Utah, was 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 Sept. 11-16. 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. 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
Nina Puikkonen was named the Mountain West Conference Volleyball Player of the Week for the week of Sept. 11-16, after helping the Cougars to a 5-0 week record, highlighted by victories over three ranked opponents, including then No. 1 Stanford and then No. 2 Long Beach State on back-to-back nights.
BYU in the National Polls
BYU, who has been ranked in the USA Today/AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 poll the seventh most times (222 weeks) 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.