Weekly Release #1 - Cougars to Open Season in Florida

Senior Uila Crabbe has emerged as the early season starting libero. She will lead the Cougars into their season-opening tournament this weekend at the Campus USA Credit Union Invitational held at the University of Florida. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

BYU to Begin 35th Recorded Season

PROVO -- After an off-season which saw 11 newcomers added to its roster, the BYU women's volleyball team will open its 35th recorded season at the USA Campus Credit Union Invitational on the campus of the University of Florida.

Held in Gainesville, Fla., the Cougars will play two matches on Friday, against American at 10 a.m. and Rutgers at 3:30. BYU will conclude the tournament by facing No. 3 Florida on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. All times are Mountain Daylight Time.

With the off-season infusion of additional talent, the Cougars have been able to hold competitive and spirited summer practices, and are now ready for the season to begin.

"We're ready to play somebody other than ourselves," BYU coach Karen Lamb said. "We've had tremendous practices through the summer, and it really impressed me how hard the team worked."

With players seemingly evenly matched, the coaching staff waited until this week to announce the starting lineup.

Redshirt sophomore setter Lauren Richards will quarterback the attack and senior rightside hitter Carrie Bowers will play on the opposite side. Redshirt freshman Lindsy Lewis-Hartsock will be teamed with pre-season All-Mountain West Conference player, senior Laura Nielsen in the middle.

On the outside a pair of juniors, April Varner and Lindsey Metcalf have gotten the starting nod. Senior Uila Crabbe will be BYU's starting libero for the third consecutive year.

Two sophomores with starting experience, outside hitter Kim Wilson and middle blocker Lexi Brown are also expected to see significant court action.

"I feel extremely good about our level of competitiveness," Lamb said. "Defensively we will be solid, and the offense will progress as long as we serve and pass well."

Through the summer, BYU remained fairly healthy. Junior libero Lindsey Kearl has been slowed by an injured back, otherwise the Cougars escaped summer two-a-days relatively unscathed.

As Lamb prepares for her second season as the Cougars' head coach she believes that improvement is a continual process. While the team has made great strides, she expects BYU to be a markedly improved squad by mid-season.

"We're aware of our opponents, and we're preparing for them," Lamb said. "At this point, though, we want to concentrate on ourselves and what we need to do to keep our focus and improve."

This Week's Opponents

American returns 10 letterwinners from last year's team that went 26-8 enroute to winning the Patriot League title with a perfect 14-0 conference mark. The Eagles have yet to play this year this is the first meeting between American and BYU.

Rutgers returns eight letterwinners and three starters from last year's 17-11 team. The Scarlet Knights will open their season by facing host Florida before playing the Cougars. BYU holds a 1-0 all-time edge over Rutgers with the win coming in 1998.

Florida is 1-1 on the season after losing to USC before defeating Kansas State at the State Farm Women's Volleyball Classic hosted by the University of Hawai'i last week. The Gators return 10 letterwinners and five starters on a team that went 34-3 in 2002 and advanced to the NCAA National Semifinals. Florida hold a slim 4-3 all-time series lead over BYU, and won its most recent meeting at last year's BYU Mizuno Classic.

This Week's Projected Starting Lineup

5 Lauren Richards 6-0 SO S

8 Carrie Bowers 6-2 SR RS

3 April Varner 6-0 JR OH

6 Lindsey Metcalf 6-0 JR OH

14 Lindsy Lewis-Hartsock 6-4 FR MB

18 Laura Nielsen 6-1 SR MB

12 Uila Crabbe 5-7 SR L

Hopping the Flight to Florida

The Cougars are taking 13 players on their season-opening trip to the Campus USA Credit Union Invitational in Gainesville, Fla., hosted by the University of Florida.

Planned Redshirts for 2003

Of BYU's eight incoming true freshman, six are slated to redshirt the 2003 season. They are: Catherine Parker, Lindsey Evans, Stacie Powell, Amy Hulse, Annie Kemp and Kimberly Dabo.

Lott Traveling to Florida

True freshman Erica Lott, a Volleyball Magazine "Fab 50" recruit, will travel to Florida with the team. During summer two-a-days, she has been practicing as a middle blocker and an outside hitter. Lott played last year at Mountain View High School in Orem, Utah.

Setter Staying

True freshman setter Jenna Judkins, who has served as the second-team setter will not be making the season-opening trip to Florida. She will stay behind to attend her sister's wedding.

Best and Worst Starts to a Season

The Cougars' best-ever start to a season is 23-0 in 1977, a year in which they finished 34-5. BYU's worst start to a season is 1979 when it started 0-2. The Cougars have never lost more than two matches in a row to start a season. In 2002, the Cougars won their season opener against Gonzaga before losing four in a row.

Outside Hitting Trio

Three players are expected to split time on the outside. Junior April Varner was outstanding in camp after sitting out most of the latter part of the 2002 season due to an ankle injury. Lindsey Metcalf and Kim Wilson also figure in the mix with each possessing distinct strengths. Metcalf set the Mountain West Conference single-match blocking record with 17 against UNLV last year. She has the universal ability to play anywhere on the court. Wilson came on as last season progressed and was BYU's main offensive force down the stretch. She is one of the Cougars' highest leapers and possesses a strong arm swing.

Injury Update

Lindsey Kearl has been bothered by recurring back pain, and has been practicing, but will not make the season-opening trip to Florida. Lexi Brown has also been bothered by back pain, but is able to play. Brown (knee), Carrie Bowers (feet) and April Varner (ankle) have recovered well from various serious injuries they suffered last season.

Roster of Champions

After an unprecedented year in which nine of the 16 players on the roster sustained injury, BYU made it a mandate to recruit additional talent. While at times last year the Cougars didn't have enough players to scrimmage, with the current 21 players on the roster, BYU is not only ensured of having enough players to practice, but the team's competitive level of play in practice has risen.

Young and Experienced

Of the Cougars' nine returning letterwinners, eight have starting experience. Of those eight, all eight have the potential to be All-MWC team selections with playing time.

Richards Ready to Rule

Sophomore setter Lauren Richards enters her first season as BYU's setter. Before redshirting last season, she played as an outside hitter in her true freshman season in 2001. Richards has extensive experience setting, however. In her experiences with the U.S. Girls Junior National team and U.S. A-2 Women's National teams (2001 and 2002), she played as a setter.

Blue/White Scrimmage

The Cougars held their annual Blue/White Scrimmage Saturday and all 21 players saw action. Five games were played in total and Kim Wilson led all players with 16 kills, while April Varner tallied 13. Carrie Bowers led the defensive side with nine blocks and Lindsy Lewis-Hartsock had seven.

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