PROVO -- The BYU women's volleyball team puts its national ranking to the test Friday and Saturday opening its 1999 season at the Georgia Invitational in Athens, Ga. The Cougars, ranked No. 4 by Volleyball magazine and No. 7 in the AVCA/USA Today coaches poll, face the Big Ten's Michigan at 2 p.m. and SEC host Georiga at 7 p.m. Friday before taking on Toledo of the Mid-American Conference on Saturday at 1 p.m. All matches will be played at the Ramsey Center in Athens.
A Look at the Cougars
For each of the past three seasons, BYU has come within one victory of making its second trip to the NCAA Final Four, something it did in 1993. In 1999, BYU has eight letterwinners returning, including an All-American setter and four all-conference performers, from a team that posted a 31-4 record and a fifth-place tie in the NCAA tournament in 1998. Ranked sixth in the final coaches poll last year, the Cougars enter this season ranked No. 4 in the Volleyball magazine preseason poll and No. 7 in the AVCA/USA Today coaches poll.
Second-team AVCA All-American setter Anna-Lena Smith and NCAA blocking champion Nina Puikkonen are two players who could make 1999 a magical year for the Cougars. A proven leader, Smith tossing up more than 1,500 passes to set up Cougar points last year and needs just 772 assists in 1999 to become BYU's all-time assist leader, surpassing current U.S. Volleyball Team member Charlene Johnson Tagaloa. Meanwhile, Puikkonen, a Volleyball magazine Freshman All-America selection, was the nation's most dominating presence at the net last year blocking 2.17 attempts per game while hitting .341 hitting and knocking down 3.18 kills per game.
Other key players include All-WAC performers Melissa Layton and Mari Carpenter. The versatile and explosive Layton played middle blocker last year but will play rightside in 1999. The 6-foot-4 Carpenter averaged 3.16 kills per game and hit .345 last season and should continue to provide offensive firepower from the outside. Caroline Bower will return to the outside hitter position for her senior year after filling a key defensive role last season. The heart of the team, Bower is a vital part of the Cougar block and is the team's best passer.
The Georiga Invitational will mark the first-ever BYU meetings with Michigan and Toledo. The Cougars have played host Georgia twice and are 2-0 against the Bulldogs. BYU, however, has never played Georgia on its home court. The Cougars last played Georgia Sept. 9, 1995, winning 3-1 at home in the BYU Mizuno Classic. The first meeting was a 3-0 BYU win on a neutral court on Nov. 29, 1985.
The Wolverines return three starters and nine letterwinners from last year's 12-18 team that finished 10th in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are led by junior middle blocker Joanna Fielder, who averaged 2.21 kills per game and hit .300 last year. The BYU match will be the first for new Wolverine coach Mark Rosen, who has compiled an impressive 209-37 career record in seven years.
The Bulldogs return four starters and seven letterwinners from last year's 14-14 team that finished third in the east division of the Southestern Conference. Coached by Jim Iams (232-103 at Georgia) in his 11th year in Athens, the Bulldogs are led by All-SEC Second Team performers Mindi Westfall and Rebecca Dady. Westfall, a 6-foot senior setter, averaged nearly 12 assists per game in 1998 while Dady, a 6-foot-2 senior, recorded 259 kills and 284 digs from her outside hitter position.
The Rockets return four starters among five letterwinners from last year's 3-27 team. Three seniors, middle blocker Cori Begle, setter Ashley Clark and rightside hitter Emily Konczal, provide leadership to a squad that should improve in 1999 with some key newcomers in the middle and on the outside. Toledo is coached by Kent Miller, who is 20-42 in three years with the Rockets.
Elaine Michaelis Quotes
"We are looking forward to the opportunity to play someone besides ourselves and see how we do. I'm encouraged by our progress so far - we are ahead of where we were at this point last year. We will focus on the things we do well and I think it will be a good opportunity for our team to make adjustments as we play. I don't know much about our opponents this early. Michigan comes from a strong volleyball conference and has a great tradition at the school. Georgia is a great school with a lot of tradition and volleyball is part of that tradition. This will be the first time we have played Michigan and Toledo."
The 1999 Schedule
With 17 road matches on its schedule, including a date with No. 2 ranked Stanford in late September, BYU has a challenging 1999 schedule. After opening the non-conference schedule facing Michigan, Georgia and Toledo at the Georgia Invitational in Athens, Ga., the Cougars travel cross country to play Loyola Marymount and Houston in a tournament in Los Angeles. BYU faces Utah State and No. 12 Pepperdine Sept. 17 and 18 in its first home matches of the season. The Cougars open Mountain West Conference play at Air Force Oct. 1 and end the regular season Nov. 19 and 20 at home against Wyoming and No. 24 Colorado State. During the conference season, BYU will sneak in away dates with Weber State, No. 15 Arizona and Arizona State and a home match-up Notre Dame, ranked 20th by Volleyball magazine.
Smith Setting the BYU Table
BYU is set at the setter position with second-team AVCA All-American Anna-Lena Smith returning for her senior season. The 5-foot-10 Smith needs 772 assists in 1999 to surpass current U.S. National Team setter Charlene Johnson Tagaloa atop BYU's all-time assists list. Last year Smith averaged just over 13 assists per game and totalled more than 1,500 on the year while setting up the quick Cougar offense. Her 89 assists against Hawai'i in the WAC Championship match set a BYU single-match record. She also had her best season yet with 129 kills in 1998.
Puikkonen a Dominating Presence in the Middle
The Cougars return a dominating presence to occupy the middle in 1999. No one in the nation during the past five years has averaged more blocks per game than Puikkonen did in her first college season. The 6-foot-3 sensation should once again be a dominating force in the middle as she enters her sophomore year. Hitting .341 and establishing career highs of 25 kills, 19 digs and 14 blocks as an All-District VII performer and Freshman All-American last year, Puikkonen is an All-America candidate and team leader in only her second season.
Soft-Spoken Michaelis Wields Winning Stick
In the world of collegiate women's volleyball, few if any coaches command more respect than Cougar head coach Elaine Michaelis. Now beginning her 38th year at the helm of the BYU program, Elaine Michealis also enters her fifth year as Director of Women's Athletics. A proven winner, Michaelis is acknowledged as one of the top coaches in the nation.
Second all-time in Division I victories, Michaelis has guided her teams to an 813-204-5 mark over the past 30 years since records were first kept at BYU beginning in 1969. She enters her first season in the new Mountain West Conference with a 321-30 conference record in four previous leagues and the distinction of winning the inaugural championship of each league.
Last year, Michaelis coached in her 1000th match (since records were kept) and reached the milestone of 800 victories while coaching the Cougars to their third straight NCAA Regional Final. Michaelis, whose 31-4 record last year marked the eighth time she has recorded more than 30 victories in a season, has had 25 straight 20-win seasons.
A Glimpse Back at the 1998 Season
As a team, BYU was second in the nation in blocking (3.77 bpg), sixth in hitting (.291) and 19th in assists (15.20 apg). The Cougars were also 19th in home attendance with 16 regular season matches averaging 1,135 Cougar faithful at the Smith Fieldhouse. Nina Puikkonen was the nation's top blocker (2.17 bpg). Puikkonen (Volleyball magazine Freshman), Korie Rogers and Anna-Lena Smith (both AVCA Second Team) earned All-America, District VII, and first-team All-WAC honors. The 31-4 record was the team's best since 1987. The Cougars four losses were to eventual national champion Long Beach State (1-3), NCAA runner-up Penn State (0-3) and No. 5 Hawaii, who edged the Cougars in two of their three matches, both times in five-game marathon contests.
One Year Ago
Match #1 - Sept. 4, 1998
AMHERST, Mass. -- BYU's eighth-ranked women's volleyball team opened the season with an impressive 15-1, 15-10, 15-1 victory over Siena College in the UMass/Phoenix Invitational. Mari Carpenter, a junior transfer played from Ricks College, had 10 kills in 11 attempts. Setter Anna-Lena Smith dished out 40 assists. (1-0 overall)
Match #2 -- Sept. 4, 1998
AMHERST, Mass. -- BYU finished its first day of competition at the UMass/Phoenix Invitational by defeating Delaware 15-2, 15-8, 15-2. Mari Carpenter finished with 10 kills. Junior setter Anna-Lena Smith had 39 assists in leading BYU to its second win of the day. (2-0)
Match #3 -- Sept. 5, 1999
AMHERST, Mass. -- BYU won again at the UMass/Phoenix Invitational by defeating Rutgers 15-1, 15-11, 15-9. Sophomore middle blocker Melissa Layton led the way offensively with 12 kills and one service ace. (3-0)
Match #4 -- September 5
AMHERST, Mass. -- BYU defeated host UMass 15 7, 15-9, 13-15, 15-3 to win the UMass/Phoenix Invitational and start the 1998 season with a perfect 4-0 record. Mari Carpenter was named to the all tournament team after leading the Cougars with 19 kills. All-American Korie Rogers, who had 11 kills and 11 digs against UMass, was named the tournament MVP. Setter Anna-Lena Smith joined Carpenter and Rogers on the all-tournament team, finishing with 52 assists in the win over UMass. (4-0)
1998 Record: 31-4
Conference Finish: 13-1, tied for 1st in WAC Pacific Division
NCAA Finish: Tied for 5th
Final National Ranking: 6th
Starters Returning (4):
Anna-Lena Smith, 5-10, Sr., S
Caroline Bower, 5-11, Sr., OH
Nina Puikkonen, 6-3, So., MB
Melissa Layton, 6-1, Jr., MB/RS
Starters Lost (3):
Korie Rogers (two-time All-American, rightside)
Andrea Petrilli (two-time WAC DS of the Year)
Helen Hjorth (outside hitter)
Other Letterwinners Returning (4):
Mari Carpenter, 6-4, Sr., OH
Natalie Whittaker, 6-0, Soph., OH
Jackie Bundy, 6-1, Soph., MB
Alyssa Barrus, 6-1, Soph., MB
Sunny Tonga, 6-2, RS/OH/S, Allen, TX
Anna-Lena Smith, 1998 2nd Team All-American
Nina Puikkonen, 1998 Freshman All-American
New Mountain West Conference
The Mountain West Conference enters its inaugural season in 1999. The Mountain West schools - Air Force Academy, Brigham Young University, Colorado State University, University of New Mexico, San Diego State University, UNLV, University of Utah and Wyoming - have garnered much success over the years in women's volleyball. Five of the institutions (BYU, CSU, New Mexico, San Diego State and Wyoming) have competed in the NCAA Tournament at least twice this decade, including BYU advancing to the NCAA Regional Finals each of the last three years and the NCAA Final Four in 1993.
MWC Preseason Poll
The Cougars, who have won the inaugural conference championship in each of their three previous leagues, were voted the coaches' preseason favorite to win the first Mountain West Conference title. BYU will host the inaugural MWC tournament Nov. 24-27 at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo.
1. BYU (No. 4 Volleyball; No. 7 AVCA rankings)
2. Colorado State (No. 24 AVCA ranking)
3. Utah (Recieved 24 votes in AVCA poll)
4. UNLV (Recieved 1 vote in AVCA poll)
6. New Mexico
7. San Diego State
8. Air Force