As the first MWC Player of the Week,Carrie Bowers lead the Cougars in kills at the opening tournament in Florida. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Volleyball player Carrie Bowers attributes her athletic success to her family, her best friend, coaches and teammates who always believed in her.
With a constant hampering of foot injuries over the past few years, she has had to practice and play through pain and frustration, but has never been alone.
Bowers was raised in a family of athletes. Her father, Dan Bowers (1969-71) and grandfather, Wesley (1942) both played football at BYU. Her brothers Andy (1997-2000) and Ben (1994-1997) played at the University of Utah. Andy now plays defensive end for the Buffalo Bills. The natural competitiveness in the Bowers' family has helped this starting volleyball player set some lofty goals.
Bowers, a 6-2 junior from Mesa, Ariz., started playing volleyball when she was very young. She moved to Utah and played for Highland High School in Salt Lake City. Her best friend and high school teammate Logan Tom was a two-time NCAA Player of the Year. Tom played professionally in Brazil after her collegiate career at Stanford, and is now back with the national team preparing to play professionally in Italy.
"Doing what you love and getting paid for it is awesome," Bowers said. "I would love to play in the same league as Logan after college some day. I just need to stay healthy."
Bowers first met Tom at her 8th grade tryouts. When Bowers arrived she saw Tom hitting at the other end of the court and thought she could never be as good as Tom. Bowers' coach always told her she could be as good as she wanted to be.
In high school Bowers played along side Tom and sat in the shadows of All-American blocker Nina Puikkonen for two seasons at BYU. Bowers said playing with these two players has taught her humility. She took advantage of every moment she had while she was not in the spotlight by learning from Tom and Puikkonen. Patience has been a virtue as Bowers will be part of the starting line up for her second consecutive season.
"Carrie has a great competitiveness," head coach Karen Lamb said. "Her greatest strength as a player is her ability to want to win. She'll give it everything she's got whenever she is on the court. I never worry about her not trying, she's always working hard."
In 2001, during her most memorable game against Colorado State, who was ranked fourth at the time, Bowers learned she could handle the pressure of any game situation when the assistant coach called her off of the bench and told her to go in for Nina Puikkonen. The coach told her to pass some balls. Bowers admitted she was a bit nervous about replacing Puikkonen. She didn't remember even having played in one game yet that season but she went in excited for the chance to play.
"As soon as I walked on the court, their all-star player was serving the ball and she looked right at me with a grin," Bowers said laughing. "I knew she was coming right at me -- the new girl. She served at me and I passed the ball perfectly and we sided out. I was like 'OK, I can handle pressure.' "
Midway through the 2002 season, Bowers sustained an injury to her left foot. Along with this injury, Bowers also suffered stress fractures in each foot. These put a damper on her goal of being the No. 1 blocker in the nation, but she never quit. She played through the pain the rest of the season and still led the team in blocking.
"I just couldn't get to the balls as fast as I used to," Bowers said. "I would try, but my foot really slowed me down. It was really frustrating."
Despite her injuries and difficulties the last few seasons, Bowers' teammates have stood by her all the way. She said they have all been great friends. Bowers said it didn't matter how bad someone was hurt or how hard the game got, the team always tried to boost each other up.
"This is the tightest knit team I've ever played on," Bowers said. "The girls are all so great."
This 'tight knit team' not only gets along very well, but they also compete well together. They went 5-0 in a spring tournament hosted by the University of Utah earlier this year. Later in the fall, the Cougars will face one of the toughest schedules they've seen in years. The team begins its season on the road as they play in the Gator Invitational in Florida August 29 -- 30.
"Like last season, this will be a tough schedule, but we look forward to playing some of the best teams in the country," Lamb said. "We have a lot of talent coming back and three key redshirts returning. We expect to be a top-20 team this season."
Lamb said Bowers would be a great asset to the team's success this season. She said Bowers enjoys playing hard on the court, but loves to joke around and make her teammates laugh.
"She's just Carrie," Lamb said. "She'll be goofy off the court, but when it comes down to playing, she's very serious. We're all just glad she's healthy."
Bowers said one thing that has helped drive her success was her father, Daniel Bowers. He always told her she would get a scholarship because he wasn't going to pay for college. Bowers set her sights, practiced hard and has been on scholarship for her entire BYU career.
"I told her as a teacher I couldn't afford to pay for college, so she would have to get the scholarship," Daniel Bowers said. "She is so competitive. I remember she would have a great game in high school and make only one mistake, and then be upset with herself about it the rest of the night. She would go outside and practice against the wall for hours."
Not only does Bowers enjoy blocking every shot that comes her way, but she also loves taking shots of her own when she goes rifle shooting with her family. For part of their last family reunion, they went shooting as a family. Spending time with her family is a priority for Bowers. She said her biggest fans are her three brothers. In addition to volleyball, she also loves wakeboarding, reading, watching movies and eating Polynesian food.
During the summer months Bowers worked hard in the weight room to strengthen her legs and stay in shape. She hopes her weight training will prevent her from further injury.
"I'm good to go now," Bowers said. "I mean, I have a little bit of soreness, but I know I'll be able to get to the balls faster this year. I'm a lot stronger than I was last year and if I play right side, I won't get beat up so much."
Since she started playing volleyball, Bowers has had a goal of being the No. 1 blocker in the nation. Prior to her injury in 2002, she was well on her way as she was ranked among the top 10 blockers in the nation. As the starting middle blocker her junior year, Bowers led the Cougars with 161 blocks in 17 matches. She had a career high of 14 kills against No. 16 Texas A&M. She was named to the Texas A&M Invitational and the BYU Mizuno Classic all-tournament teams.
Although the 2002 season was plagued with injuries for Bowers and many of her teammates, Bowers feels they learned a lot from the adversity and said this year will be much different.
The Cougars have a healthy squad this season combined with experience and talent. Bowers will play along side seven other returning starters including: Setter, Lauren Richards; Middle Blockers, Laura Nielson and Lexi Brown; Outside Hitters, April Varner, Lindsey Metcalf and Kimberly Wilson; and Defensive Specialist, Uila Crabbe.
The Cougars, however, will miss All-American candidate Sunny Mahe. After redshirting last season, Mahe has decided to not return to the line up. Her husband Reno, has signed as a free agent running back with the Philadelphia Eagles. She will stay home to take care of their first child.
Heading into her senior year, Bowers has her goals set high. In addition to her goal of being the No. 1 blocker in the country, she also has goals of beating Utah and winning the Mountain West Conference title this season.
Coming off such a tough season in 2002, Bowers wants to show the conference BYU is ready to play. She said after playing in a couple of spring tournaments, the team is pumped and looking forward to the road ahead.