Cougars Ready for Action at Penn State Classic

Head coach Karen Lamb and the Cougars head to the Penn State Classic this weekend to take on Quinnipiac, Rutgers and No. 8 Penn State in their season-opening action. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)

PROVO -- After an offseason which saw eight newcomers added to its roster, the BYU women's volleyball team will open its 36th recorded season at the Penn State Classic Tournament on the campus of Pennsylvania State University.

Held in University Park, Pa., the Cougars will play one match on Friday against Quinnipiac at 7:30 p.m. BYU will then face Rutgers on Saturday at 1 p.m. and conclude the Tournament against No. 8 Penn State Saturday evening at 8 p.m. All times are Mountain Daylight Time.

"We're excited to get some experience playing in an actual match before meeting Penn State in the third match," BYU coach Karen Lamb said. "We're pretty evenly matched and I know it will come down to who does the little things, especially in terms of serving and passing. Our plan is just to focus on the task at hand."

With players seemingly evenly matched, the coaching staff waited until this week to announce the starting lineup.

Junior All-Mountain West Conference setter Lauren Richards returns to quarterback the attack and redshirt freshman Erica Lott will make her Cougar debut on the rightside. After a break-out freshman year in which she earned MWC Freshman of the Year honors, preseason All-MWC sophomore Lindsy Hartsock will lead BYU's blocking efforts along with junior Lexi Brown in the middle.

On the outside senior April Varner and junior Kim Wilson have gotten the starting nod. Redshirt freshman Lindsey Evans will also make her Cougar debut as BYU's starting libero.

A pair of seniors with starting experience, outside hitter Lindsey Metcalf and rightside hitter Mandi Kiholm could also see significant court action.

"We have more firepower from hitters than we've had in the past couple of years, which is very exciting," said Lamb. "Having a better offense will also make our defense better. I think our blocking has improved and we're ready to go."

Here's a look at the teams that will take the floor against the Cougars this weekend.

QUINNIPIAC

The Bobcats return 11 letterwinners and five starters from last year's 6-20 team, having lost only three letterwinners. Top returners include 5-10 senior setter Janka Lopatta, who averaged 6.92 assists per game last year, and Kalyn Hundley, a 5-11 sophomore outside hitter who put up 2.30 kills per game in 2003. Head coach Makeba Davis returns for his sixth season after leading Quinnipiac to a 4-4 Northeastern Conference record.

This is the first meeting between BYU and the Bobcats and will be the season-opening match for both teams.

RUTGERS

BYU will take on the Scarlet Knights in the second match of the Penn State Classic on Saturday afternoon, marking the third meeting of the two teams. BYU owns a 2-0 advantage in those matches, the first being in 1998 and the second being in last season's Florida Invitational, a match which the Cougars swept.

Rutgers returns eleven letterwinners and five starters from last year's 11-17 team, including senior outside hitter Dawn Christjaener, who posted 3.41 kills per game and 2.49 digs per game in 2003, as well as senior setter Abbey Martin who quarterbacked the attack with 11.10 assists per game. Head coach Ann Leonard-House returns for her 11th season at the helm of the Rutgers program.

The Scarlet Knights will open their season facing host Penn State Friday night before meeting the Cougars.

PENN STATE

Preseason No. 8 Penn State awaits BYU in the final match of the Classic Saturday evening. The Nittany Lions return nine letterwinners and five starters on a team that went 31-5 in 2003 and advanced to the NCAA Regional Finals. Second Team All-American setter Sam Tortorello will be back to run the offense after averaging 13.48 assists per game last season. Head coach Russ Rose will be looking for his 800th win during the tournament, owning a 799-148 mark in 25 seasons.

BYU and Penn State have an even 4-4 record in this series. The two teams' most recent meeting came last season in the BYU Mizuno Classic when the Cougars stunned the then No. 8 Lions, winning three games to two: 21-30, 30-27, 30-23, 26-30, 15-13.

Penn State will open against Rutgers Friday evening before facing Quinnipiac in the Saturday afternoon game and BYU in the tournament closer.

"We have a long and good series going with Penn State," said Lamb. "We look forward to a challenging and exciting opportunity to compete against them."

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