Preseason MWC Player of the Year Chelsea Goodman hopes to lead the Cougars to another league title in 2007. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Wednesday Marks Beginning of Practice
PROVO -- After finishing the 2006 season ranked No. 20 in the nation with a 25-6 overall record, the BYU women's volleyball team is poised and ready to once again compete on the national stage in 2007. The fourth-winningest program in the country, BYU has all the pieces in place to make another run at the Mountain West Conference and NCAA titles.
The Cougars advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 2003, earning the program's first final national ranking since 2001. With an experienced squad seasoned by consecutive trips to the national championship tournament, BYU head coach Jason Watson expects to see continued success in his third year at the helm.
"I'm very optimistic about our upcoming season based on the success we had in 2006," said Watson, who has compiled a 50-10 record in the past two seasons. "We have a solid offensive core returning and athletes that have been together for quite some time. They're ready to do what it takes to excel at an extremely high level."
Watson, whose team was tabbed as the preseason league favorites, will be relying on the experience of 11 letterwinners and six starters this season, including one All-American and three players who received All-MWC honors last year. Add to that the services of five newcomers, and BYU will once again be among the favorites to challenge for the league title and maintain its position among the nation's elite.
"Our program will be looking to these experienced players to provide leadership throughout the season," Watson said. "There are some significant challenges ahead and we have work to do, but our staff has tremendous confidence in each of our student-athletes."
One of the Cougars' most vocal leaders over the past three years has been senior outside hitter Chelsea Goodman, who has been selected the preseason MWC Player of the Year. The 2006 All-American led the MWC and ranked 43rd in the nation last season with 4.49 kills per game while adding 3.15 digs per contest. She also racked up a league-leading 18 double-doubles on the year, bringing her career total to 34, which ranks third all-time in MWC history. A team captain last year known for her power and enthusiasm, Goodman's play and leadership will once again be vital to the Cougars' success this season.
The graduation of Kim Wilson Sorensen leaves an opening beside Goodman on the outside. While two newcomers may compete for time, junior Bryn Porter enters the fall as the frontrunner for the job. Porter averaged 2.50 kills and 1.11 digs per game last season while seeing action in 15 matches and posting double-digit kills in five contests. Her experience will be counted on as two incoming freshmen, Christy Carpenter and Christina Measom, also battle for time. The two Utah natives both come to BYU highly decorated after outstanding high school careers and are anxious to make their mark on the Cougars' 2007 campaign.
Senior Erica Lott, a preseason All-MWC pick, will continue what she started last season after sliding over to the rightside prior to her junior year. The move proved fruitful for the two-time All-MWC selection as she averaged 3.77 kills and 1.07 blocks per game while earning all-region honorable mention. Another of those who will be looked to for leadership, Lott is expected to be a heavy contributor to the Cougars' point totals this season.
Behind Lott at the rightside position is senior Catherine Parker. A steady contributor for BYU throughout her career, Parker will once again be poised and ready to step in when called upon. True freshman Casey Speredon, the third of the Cougars' trio of Utah recruits, also enters the BYU roster at the rightside this season.
While the Cougars will be without the services of All-American middle blocker Lindsy Hartsock this season, junior Rachel Dyer has proven she is capable of filling Hartsock's shoes. Dyer had a breakout sophomore year culminating in an all-region honorable mention nod after finishing the season ranked third in the league in hitting percentage and sixth in blocks. Despite missing five matches due to injury, she hit .500 or better six times while reaching double-digit kills 10 times and double-digit blocks once. Another All-MWC honoree, Dyer has shown she is a force to be reckoned with and will be a dominating presence in the middle for BYU this season.
Two sophomores will compete for time alongside Dyer. Marisa Vandersteen and Ashton Hansen both saw action last season as redshirt freshmen and showed promise. They will look to build on that experience throughout 2007 and further develop BYU's blocking prowess.
Junior setter Amy Schlauder hopes to continue her assault on the BYU record books this year after a sophomore campaign that saw her put up 13.15 assists per game, third all-time in Cougar history. Despite missing eight matches due to injury, Schlauder's assist average led the league and ranked 24th in the nation. Known for her composure and control, Schlauder has developed excellent relationships with her hitters that will form the backbone of the Cougar offense.
Schlauder will be pushed at the setter position this year by redshirt freshman Kiana Rogers. A highly decorated setter from Diamond Springs, Calif., Rogers enters the season with the talent to compete at the highest levels and could see action this season. Senior setter Jenna Judkins is also in the mix after a successful stint at the net during Schlauder's injury last season. She has developed into a serving specialist for BYU. Her positive attitude and tremendous work ethic play a key role in the Cougars' team chemistry.
The Cougars' top two passers will once again battle for playing time this season as senior Annie Pinegar and junior Janvier Beaumont continue to push each other to the top. Beaumont began the 2006 season as the BYU libero until Pinegar earned the starting job midway through the year. She then proceeded to smash the Cougar record for digs in a game with 42 in BYU's incredible five-game comeback win over UC Santa Barbara in the NCAA Tournament while averaging 3.49 digs per game over the course of the season. Both players have the talent and experience to lead the Cougar defense.
Junior Stephanie Lau has also seen time in the back row during her BYU career, serving as a defensive and serving specialist for the Cougars. Joining the group at the libero and defensive specialist positions in 2007 are incoming freshmen Alessandra Beaumont (Janvier's sister) and Brooke Taualii.
Continuing its tradition of competitive scheduling, BYU will play seven teams that qualified for the 2006 NCAA Tournament, including four that were ranked in the final CSTV/AVCA Top 25 Poll.
"Our staff has put together a challenging schedule in 2007," said Watson. "Our nonconference competition in the early stages of our season will test us nightly. It will be a great opportunity for us to compete against some of the best talent in the country and prepare ourselves for an increasingly competitive league schedule."
In addition to a full slate of MWC action, the Cougars will play in three tournaments beginning with a three-team event hosted by the University of Iowa at the end of August. BYU will then host the Molten Classic featuring Wisconsin, a perennial top-15 team, American and Northern Iowa. The match against American will see the return of former BYU All-American setter Lauren Richards Evans to the Smith Fieldhouse as an assistant coach with the Eagles.
The Cougars will finish preseason nonconference play at a tournament hosted by national runner-up Stanford. BYU will play matches against Cal Poly, St. Mary's and the Cardinal, whom the Cougars defeated last season in the Molten Classic. After starting the 16-match MWC schedule in mid-September, BYU will step out of league action to take on Weber State and Utah Valley. This year's MWC Tournament will be hosted by UNLV in Las Vegas.
Of the Cougars' 2007 opponents, BYU has a winning record against all but two of its competitors, including a split with Wisconsin. The Cougars' all-time record versus this season's opponents is a dominating 387-83-1 (.823).