PROVO -- BYU will start the defense of its 1999 Mountain West Conference crown this week when it opens the 2000 conference volleyball season in the Smith Fieldhouse Friday against UNLV and Saturday versus San Diego State. Friday's match starts at 7 p.m. and will be televised on KBYU-TV and BYU-TV (Dish Network 500) while Saturday's match has an 8 p.m. start time.
The Cougars enter league play with a 7-3 record and ranked ninth (Volleyball magazine) and 15th (AVCA/USA Today) in the national polls. The Cougars were ranked as high as seventh and 10th, respectively, with wins over Long Beach State and Stanford before suffering two losses last week to drop back in the polls.
Michaelis Could Reach 850 Win Milestone Saturday
Second all-time in division I wins, BYU coach Elaine Michaelis can reach the 850 win mark this week with wins over UNLV and San Diego State. She is the all-time leader in wins among female coaches with an 848-212-5 mark.
Friday's BYU vs. UNLV match will be televised live at 7 p.m. in Utah on KBYU-TV channel 11. The match is also being aired on BYU-TV, which is available on the Dish Network, system 500.
BYU holds a 6-0 series advantage over UNLV with matches dating back to 1984. Last year BYU defeated the Rebels twice in three games. The Rebels enter this year with an 0-9 record, including an 0-2 road mark. The Rebels have lost to four nationally ranked teams, including Florida, Wisconsin, UC Santa Barbara and Hawaii. UNLV has only won two of its 29 games in nine matches, losing 2-3 to Alabama on Sept. 8. The Rebels took Hawaii to a 12-15 score in game two at Hawaii in their last match. The Rebels are led by Leiana Oswald, a redshirt freshman outside hitter with a 3.41 kills per game average. UNLV is hitting .129 while yielding a .285 percentage to its opponents. The Rebels have six freshmen on the roster and only two seniors. UNLV is coached by Deitre Collins (49-71 overall in her fifth year, all at UNLV). Both UNLV assistant coaches are BYU graduates. Kevin Hambly, a 1998 BYU graduate, is in his fourth season and Andrea Petrilli, a 2000 graduate, is in her first year with UNLV. Petrilli was an undergraduate assistant with BYU last year and a two-time conference defensive specialist of the year during her playing career with the Cougars.
Scouting San Diego State
BYU leads the series with the Aztecs, 21-13, and currently has a seven match winning streak. BYU's last loss to SDSU was a 2-3 defeat in San Diego during the 1996 season. BYU has not lost to the Aztecs at home since a 3-1 loss during the NCAA first round in November 1990. BYU has won eight straight home matches against SDSU. The Aztecs enter this week with a 5-6 record before facing No. 18 Utah Friday in Salt Lake City. SDSU is 2-0 on the road. The Aztecs have a three-match winning streak and overall have wins over St. Mary's, Portland State, Northeastern, Kent State, and Cornell. The Aztecs losses include San Diego, Oregon State, Idaho and nationally ranked Pepperdine, UC Santa Barbara and Arizona. SDSU is has three hitters recording more than 2.38 kills per game. The Aztecs are hitting .193 as a team with their opponents hitting .218. SDSU is coached by Mark Warner (88-75 overall in his sixth year, all at SDSU).
Cougars among Statistical Leaders
BYU is second in the nation in blocking (3.66 bpg) and ranks 20th nationally in hitting (.280) as a team. The Cougars are the top Mountain West Conference team in blocking, kills (16.86 kpg) and assists (14.84 apg). BYU is second in hitting behind Colorado State and ranks third in service aces (1.65 sapg). BYU is seventh of eight teams in digs (11.73 dpg). Individually, Nina Puikkonen leads the nation in blocking (1.97 bpg) and ranks third in the conference in kills (3.97 kpg), fifth in hitting (.343) and seventh in aces (0.41 sapg). Karina Puikkonen is second in the MWC in assists (12.76 apg) and seventh in blocking (1.05 bpg). Melissa Layton is second in the conference in aces (0.50 sapg) and 12th in hitting (.301) while Sunny Tonga rates third in hitting (.363) and tied for ninth in kills (3.41 kpg). Jackie Bundy is rated fourth among MWC blockers (1.46 bpg).
Karina Puikkonen Off to Solid Start
Redshirt freshman setter Karina Puikkonen averaged 12.90 assists per game last week while while distributing the ball to five BYU hitters who all averaged more than 2.30 kills per game. She distributed the ball well, giving all five hitters between 63 and 73 attempts. Karina hit .750 (3-0-4) in BYU's win over Temple while tossing up 28 assists with a service ace, two digs and three block assists. She hit .300 (5-2-10) with 56 assists, five digs and four block assists vs. No. 13 Arizona and hit .500 (5-1-8) with 45 assists, seven digs and a block assist at Utah State. On the year, Karina is averaging 12.76 assists per game while hitting .320 with 1.19 kills, 1.43 digs and 1.05 blocks per game.
Nina Puikkonen, who was named the AVCA national player of the week last week, recorded her team-leading fourth double-double of the year with 10 kills and a season-high 12 blocks vs. Temple last Saturday. Puikkonen has had double-digit kills in seven of 10 matches this year, double-figures blocks twice and two-digit digs twice. Kalani and Sunny Tonga each have two double-doubles, including Kalani's 10 kills, 10 digs effort against Arizona last Friday. She just missed a third double-double with 14 digs and nine kills vs. Fairfield. Kalani has had 10 or more digs a team-leading four times this year. Jackie Bundy and Melissa Layton each have one double-double and both players nearly recorded a second coming one dig (Jackie vs. LBSU) and one kill (Melissa vs. Notre Dame) shy of the feat.
BYU is coming off a home win after having its seven-match home winning streak come to an end last week against now No. 10 Arizona. BYU had won five straight at home this year and two matches dating back to last year. BYU is 0-2 in away matches this year after its loss at Utah State last week.
The Cougar have traditionally had one of the nation's top blocking teams, finishing third nationally last year. Two-time All-American Nina Puikkonen led the nation individually as a freshman and last year was the country's third-best blocker by average. This year the Cougars are ranked second as a team and Puikkonen is again the country's top blocker. The Cougars out blocked their opponents in the first six matches of the year (5-1 record) but then suffered a string of three straight matches being out blocked at the net. BYU defeated then second-ranked Long Beach State but was edged at the net 13.5 to 12.5 by the tall 49er frontline. Then in back-to-back losses at Utah State and vs. then No. 13 Arizona, BYU was out blocked 11.5 to 7.0 and 11.0 to 9.5, respectively. BYU's seven blocks at Utah State is a season low. BYU has recorded double-digit blocks as a team in seven of its 10 matches this year with the other single-digit night being an 8.5 effort in the season-opening win over Clemson.
In its 10 matches, BYU had won 24 of 37 games. BYU's worst offensive out put was against Utah State, losing all three games and scoring 13, 8 and 6 points. BYU was held to a season-low 5 points in the decisive game four loss to Arizona. BYU had reached double-digit points all but five games this year (32 of 37). During BYU's sweep of then No. 1 Stanford and No. 2 Long Beach State 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. LBSU.
Nina Puikkonen was named the MVP the 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.
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 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 for the week of Sept. 11-16, marking the first time this season and the third time overall Puikkonen has earned the award.
Quick Glance at the Cougars
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 12.76 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.