No. 15 BYU Hosts Molten Classic

Senior Erica Lott will hope to repeat as the BYU Molten Classic MVP this weekend. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)

PROVO -- The No. 15 BYU women's volleyball team will open its 2007 home season this weekend hosting the BYU Molten Classic on Friday and Saturday in the Smith Fieldhouse. No. 10 Wisconsin highlights the four-team field along with 2006 NCAA Tournament participants American and Northern Iowa.

"This is an important week for our program," said BYU head coach Jason Watson. "We get to open our home schedule with 3 nationally competitive programs. The challenge for our team will be to improve upon the lessons learnt last weekend."

The event will begin Friday at 4 p.m. with American taking on Northern Iowa before the featured match between the Badgers and Cougars at 7 p.m., which will be televised live on BYUTV. Saturday's action begins at 10 a.m. with Wisconsin facing Northern Iowa and BYU playing American at 12 p.m. The evening block will see Wisconsin vs. American at 5 p.m. before BYU and Northern Iowa play in the 7 p.m. nightcap. Live stats will be available for all six matches.

BYU went 12-1 in the Smith Fieldhouse last year and set a new program attendance record with an average of 1,902 fans, 13th in the nation. The Cougars are now 460-82 (.849) all-time at home and 22-1 on Elaine Michaelis Court over the last two years. With a 995-274-5 all-time record in the 39-year recorded history of BYU women's volleyball, the Cougars are just five victories away from becoming the fourth program in volleyball history to post 1,000 wins.

Wisconsin is 3-0 so far in 2007 after claiming the InnTowner Invitational title last weekend with sweeps of UW-Milwaukee, Gardner-Webb and Syracuse. Sophomore outside hitter Brittney Dolgner paces the Badgers with 4.88 kills per game while adding 2.12 digs per contest. The Badgers, who hit .271, are holding their opponents to a dismal .012 offensive efficiency while besting foes in every statistical category.

American is off to an undefeated 3-0 record in 2007 after capturing the D.C. Volleyball Challenge Crown with sweeps of Georgetown and George Mason and a five-game come-from-behind victory over George Washington. Junior outside hitter Rubena Sukaj, a native of Albania, leads the Eagles averaging 5.5 kills per game, including 27 against GW, on .326 hitting. As a team, the Eagles are hitting .295 while holding opponents to a .113 offensive mark. American bests its opponents in every statistical category.

The Eagles' participation in the BYU Molten Classic marks the return of former BYU All-American setter Lauren Richards Evans to the Smith Fieldhouse. Evans finished her Cougar career in 2005 third all-time at BYU in career assist average (12.29) and total assists (4,056). She was hired as an assistant with the Eagles prior to the 2006 season.

Northern Iowa jumped out to a 2-1 start in 2007 after claiming the UNI Invitational crown last weekend. The Panthers swept Western Michigan and Wright State to open the year before falling at Kentucky in five games. Two UNI players are averaging over three kills per game as junior middle blocker Ashten Stelken is posting 3.73 kpg and sophomore outside hitter Shannon Aschoff is right behind with 3.27 kpg. As a team, the Panthers are hitting .279 while holding opponents to a .141 offensive mark. UNI bests its opponents in every statistical category.

The Cougars began the 2007 season last weekend winning the Hawkeye Challenge with a sweep of Marquette (30-23, 30-27, 30-22) on Friday and a five-game victory over Iowa on Saturday. BYU had to fight hard to begin the year 2-0, though, as the Hawkeyes won the first two games (30-21, 30-21), forcing a spectacular Cougar comeback (30-19, 30-26, 15-13) to secure the win. Three Cougars received All-Tournament honors for helping the Cougars claim the Hawkeye Challenge crown. Chelsea Goodman was named the tournament MVP while Rachel Dyer and Bryn Porter were named to the all-tournament team.

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