The Cougars are back together again after 13 matches with injuries and set to take on No. 9 Utah on Friday night. The match can be heard live on BYU Radio. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- The No. 17 BYU women's volleyball team will face one of its toughest tests of the season Friday night as the Cougars travel to Salt Lake City to face No. 9 Utah. The 7 p.m. match pitting the Mountain West Conference's top two teams can be heard live on BYU Radio.
"The Utah match is always an important match not only for the rivalry but for the implications it has on the conference title and seeding for the NCAA Tournament," said BYU head coach Jason Watson. "These athletes have known each other and played with and against each other for years. That also adds a deeper dimension to this rivalry."
With a sweep of Weber State on Tuesday night, the Cougars are now 19-2 on the season and 9-1 in league play with their only loss coming to then-No. 18 Utah in four games on Sept. 29 in Provo. The Utes have an identical 19-2 overall record and are 10-0 in the MWC, holding sole possession of first place with BYU just a match behind.
The return of starting middle blocker Rachel Dyer to the BYU line up against Weber State after missing two weeks with a foot injury marked the first time in 14 matches that the Cougars have had the services of their entire starting rotation. Starting setter Amy Schlauder missed eight matches with a broken finger suffered on Sept. 7 while starting rightside hitter Erica Lott missed two matches (Sept. 29 against Utah and Oct. 3 at UVSC) with a back injury. Dyer injured her foot the day before Lott and Schlauder returned to the starting line up on Oct. 6. Both Lott and Schlauder missed BYU's match against Utah earlier this season.
"We're excited to be back to full strength," said Watson. "It's nice to have a line up back that has been missing for quite some time."
Despite being hampered by injuries, the Cougars have fared well as several BYU players are making statistical waves. Of the seven overall statistical categories tracked by the MWC, BYU players lead the league in four of them (hitting percentage -- Dyer; kills -- Chelsea Goodman; assists -- Schlauder; points -- Chelsea Goodman) and are second in one other (blocks -- Lindsy Hartsock). BYU also packs one-two punches in three categories as Dyer and Hartsock rank first and second, respectively, in hitting percentage; Goodman and Lott rank first and second, respectively, in kills; and Goodman and Lott also rank first and second, respectively, in points.
Utah also has its fair share of statistical leaders. Sophomore Airial Salvo, the 2005 MWC Freshman of the Year, leads the Utes with 4.13 kills per game, third in the league behind BYU's Goodman and Lott. Salvo is also second on the team in digs with 3.61 per game while junior libero Connie Dangerfield paces the team at 4.24 dpg. As a team, Utah leads the nation in blocks per game (3.88) on the backs of junior Emillie Toone, who leads the country individually with 1.91 bpg, and sophomore Lori Baird with 1.47 (27th nationally). Toone is also third in the MWC in hitting percentage behind BYU's Dyer and Hartsock at .378. The Utes as a team are 11th in the nation hitting .283 while allowing opponents to hit .096.
"Utah is a very good team, especially defensively," said Watson. "We will need to be balanced offensively and distribute more evenly to counter their block. We weren't able to do that last time without Erica (Lott). We've put our plan together, so we hope that we can stay calm and composed and execute at our best."
Fans of both teams can follow the action in a number of ways. In addition to the live BYU Radio broadcast, a live Internet video stream is available to CSTV XXL subscribers. Live stats will also be available. Links for all of these options can be found by going to the Schedule page of the BYU women's volleyball homepage at www.byucougars.com.