Volleyball ready for second season in WCC

(Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

PROVO, Utah—After recording a winning season in BYU’s inaugural year in the West Coast Conference, the Cougar women’s volleyball team looks to improve on that success in 2012.

“The start of every new season is an exciting time,” head coach Shawn Olmstead said. “We are looking forward to competing in our second season in the WCC.  It’s a strong conference top to bottom.  This is a wonderful opportunity for athletes both old and new, as is the case with each season.  As a coaching staff we love the kids we have in the gym and are enjoying the practice dynamics.  We are a week away from our first official competition and hope it will be another great season for the returners and a new adventure for the new kids.  We are looking forward to each new step.”

Last season BYU finished 21-9 and 10-6 in WCC play. The conference record was good for a third-place finish in league and the Cougars just narrowly missed an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Returning are starters Jennifer Hamson, Heather Hannemann, Kathryn LeCheminant, Nicole Warner and Tia Withers. The Cougars have a supporting crew of four juniors, Kimberli Boswell, Jessica Jardine, Coriann Clark Thompson and Taeja Toleafoa.

Welcomed to BYU’s ranks are freshmen Amy Boswell (sister of Kimberli), Alexa Gray, Ciara Parker, Samantha Staker and Whitney Young.

Breakdown by Position

Outside hitter

Despite losing the talent of two senior outside hitters from 2011, the Cougars will field an outside hitter lineup of experienced athletes. Jardine and sophomore Katie Vaughn both saw playing time and both started in four matches during 2011. Jardine played in 11 matches, coming up with a career-high 10 kills against UC Santa Barbara. Vaughn saw action in 23 matches, securing a career-high 14 kills against Idaho early in the season.

Added to the lineup are Kimberly Dahl, who redshirted last season, and newcomers Gray and Young. The Cougars also have sophomore Hannah Robison and junior Toleafoa ready to step up as needed.

Setter

Senior Hannemann took control at the setter position in 2011, finding success in her first year as the starter. Hannemann collected 1,235 assists last season to help the Cougars to their best final record in four years.

Newcomer Staker will train under Hannemann as the only other setter on the team. Staker just ended her high school career helping her team to a third-place finish in the Utah 5A tournament.

Opposite hitter

A 6-foot-7 Jennifer Hamson plays at opposite hitter, proving a hard player to defend as she led the team and the WCC in kills last season. Hamson totaled 422 kills (3.94 per set) on .301 hitting. The junior, who is the tallest women’s volleyball player in the league, set a career high of 21 kills against Loyola Marymount at the beginning of 2011 conference play. She also had 255 digs (2.38 per set), which helped her to 11 double-doubles on the season.

Hamson was awarded All-America honorable mention and All-Pacific Region accolades for her performance in 2011. She was also named all-conference and academic all-conference. Hamson ranked No. 22 in the nation for points scored per set to finish the year.

Backing up Hamson are the Boswell sisters, who also play middle blocker.

Middle blocker

Warner and LeCheminant lead the BYU middle blockers after having great success during 2011. The duo helped BYU to a No. 1 NCAA ranking for blocks per set during the season, ending at No. 6 nationally. Warner was individually ranked as high as No. 1 in the nation for blocks per set and also ended at No. 6 with 162 total (1.51 per set).

LeCheminant had 125 (1.18) blocks in 2011, the second-highest number on the team. She led the team with 13 solo blocks.

Junior Kimberli Boswell saw action as a middle blocker in 12 matches last season, recording 21 blocks. She’s joined by three new recruits, including her sister. Amy Boswell, Gray and Young will all be in the mix of middle blockers this fall.

Libero/defensive specialist

With the departure of 2011 libero Kendalyn Hartsock, who holds the BYU record for season digs average, the libero position has yet to be filled. In the running for libero are Tia Withers, Toleafoa, Thompson and newcomer Parker.

Withers started as a defensive specialist after walking on prior to the 2011 season. She had 216 digs and played in all 107 sets. Thompson also saw action in 2011, competing in three matches including the matches against No. 16 San Diego and No. 17 Pepperdine.

Schedule

BYU launches the 2012 season with four tournaments. Aug. 24, the Cougars face Arkansas State in their season opener. BYU then faces former Mountain West Conference opponent Air Force and tournament host Rice on Aug. 25.

The team then heads to Kansas for the Shocker Volleyball Classic at Wichita State, joined by another former MW opponent Colorado State (No. 25 in the final 2011 AVCA Coaches’ Poll) and Tennessee (No. 19 in 2011).

The Cougars will host their third tournament Sep. 7-8, welcoming the University of Utah, Portland State and Bowling Green to Elaine Michaelis Court before finishing the pre-conference schedule with a tournament at George Washington. They will also meet Princeton and New Hampshire while in Washington D.C.

During conference play, the Cougars will face powerhouses Pepperdine and San Diego, which ended 2011 No. 1 and No. 2 in the WCC, respectively. Both teams went on to the NCAA Tournament in 2011, with USD reaching the second round and Pepperdine making it to the Elite Eight. The Waves hosted their first two championship matches, but fell to UCLA in the quarterfinals. They ended the season ranked No. 6 in the AVCA Coaches’ Poll.

BYU faces Pepperdine to start 2012 league play, with a home matchup Sep. 20 that will be broadcast on BYUtv. The Cougars then face Gonzaga, a team with which BYU split the 2011 series.

Saint Mary’s also proved a tough opponent in BYU’s first year in the conference. With All-WCC players Jordan Shaw and Missy White returning for SMC, the Gaels are once again in the running for the No. 1 position in the WCC. BYU meets SMC for the first time in Moraga, Calif., Sep. 29 and for the final time Oct. 18 in Provo.

Oct. 31, the Cougars host USD at 8 p.m. on Elaine Michaelis Court. The Toreros finished 2011 tied for No. 20 in the coaches’ poll.

Perhaps the toughest week of conference play comes the last week of league competition, when the Cougars go head-to-head with both Pepperdine and USD on the road Nov. 15 and Nov. 17, respectively.

The team went 21-9 overall and 10-6 in conference in its first year in the WCC.

BYU finishes its regular season with a home match against in-state foe Utah Valley Nov. 20.

Televised matches

Date Opponent Channel Time
Sep. 7 Utah BYUtv 7 p.m. MDT
Sep. 20 Pepperdine BYUtv TBA
Sep. 22 Gonzaga BYUtv 1 p.m. MDT
Oct. 18 Saint Mary's BYUtv 7 p.m. MDT
Oct. 31 San Diego ESPNU 8 p.m. MDT
Nov. 10 Santa Clara BYUtv 1 p.m. MST
Nov. 20 UVU BYUtv 7 p.m. MST