Puikkonen Receives Cougar Club Honor

PROVO -- Junior middle blocker Nina Puikkonen received the Crowd Pleaser Award Wednesday at the 2001 Cougar Club Athletic Awards Banquet.

The Cougar Club presents the award annually to the male and female ahthletes whose enthusiasm and outstanding peformance have given extra excitement to the crowd. Senior baseball pitcher Nate Fernley joined Puikkonen in receiving the honor.

Puikkonen was one of 14 student-athletes and two teams to be honored by the Cougar Club.

Nina Puikkonen -- Crowd Pleaser

Junior middle blocker Nina Puikkonen gave Cougar volleyball fans plenty to cheer about in the Smith Fieldhouse this season. Nina led BYU to a 16-1 home record on the way to a 26-7 overall mark, the Mountain West Conference Tournament title and a fifth straight trip to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Nina earned American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America First Team honors, becoming the eighth Cougar to be named to the first team and only the fourth to earn the award as a junior. On her way to All-America honors, Nina also earned all-region honors and was twice named AVCA National Player of the Week. The country's only two-time recipient in 2000, Nina joined former BYU All-American Any Steele Gant as the only Cougars to receive the weekly national honor.

In addition to the national awards recognizing her outstanding performances on the court, Nina received national praise this year for her efforts in the classroom. A zoology major, the Murray, Utah native was selected to the Verizon Academic District VIII Third Team.

She was named MWC Player of the Week four times in 2000 and was selected to the all-conference team for the third straight year. She earned the MWC Tournament MVP after leading BYU to an upset win over No. 4 Colorado State for the tournament title on the Rams' home court. She was also MVP of the BYU Mizuno Classic after helping BYU defeat No. 1 Stanford and No. 2 Long Beach State on back-to-back nights to win the tournament title.

An offensive and defensive presence at the net, Nina led the conference in kills and ranked second in the nation in blocking. In her three seasons at BYU, she has been among the top three blockers in the country each year and led the nation as a freshman. She is currently third all-time at BYU in blocks and is seventh on BYU's career kills list.

During this past season she led BYU in kills (467), block solos (24), block assists (189), total blocks (213) and was second with 38 service aces and 226 digs. She had team-best averages of 4.13 kills per game, 1.88 blocks per game and a .357 hitting percentage. In MWC matches she led the league in both kills (4.30) and service aces (0.43).

Nina recorded a team-high nine double-doubles and two triple doubles this year. Both of her triple-doubles came against instate rival Utah -- the last effort included 24 kills, 14 digs and 13 blocks in BYU's MWC Tournament semifinal win. Overall, she had double-digit kills in 28 of 33 matches and had 20 or more kills in four matches, including a season-high 25 kills against No. 2 Long Beach State.

Nina Puikkonen -- 2000 Honors

• 2000 AVCA All-America First Team

• 2000 Two-time AVCA National Player of the Week

• 2000 NCAA West Region Team

• 2000 Mountain West Conference First Team

• 2000 Mountain West Conference Tournament MVP

• 2000 BYU Mizuno Classic MVP

• 2000 Notre Dame Shamrock Invitational All-Tournament Team

• 2000 Four-time MWC Player of the Week

• 2000 Verizon Academic All-District VIII Third Team

• 2000 Ranked No.2 nationally in blocking