Junior Uila Crabbe, who led the Cougars defensively with 33 digs in a pair of matches last week, leads BYU into weekend play at New Mexico and Air Force. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- Seeking to get back into the win column, the BYU women's volleyball team will travel to play its last regular season road matches of the season this weekend. The Cougars will play New Mexico Friday at Johnson Arena and Air Force Saturday at East Gym. Both matches are scheduled to start at 7 p.m. (MST).
"I'm optimistic that if we play well this weekend we should have two wins," BYU coach Karen Lamb said. "We've encountered a lot of adversity this season and I'm truly proud of how the players have continued to compete. Some days are better than others and some weeks are better than others, but the main thing is we never give up, we keep fighting and we continue to be a team."
Starting sophomore outside hitter April Varner is the team leader with 2.88 kills per game, but she continues to be out after sustaining a severely sprained ankle in practice last week. In her place true freshman outside hitter Kim Wilson has picked up the offensive slack as she continues her surging play. In the weekend losses to UNLV and San Diego State, Wilson led the team with 32 kills (4.57 kpg), including a career-high 17-kill effort versus UNLV. Sophomore outside hitter Lindsey Metcalf shook off the nagging effects of a sprained ankle to set a career-high with 20 digs and tie a career best with 13 kills versus SDSU.
Junior middle blocker Laura Nielsen, the most consistent Cougar attacker, hit .308 in each of last week's matches and is hitting a team-high .354 on the season. Despite the pain of two stress fractures in her feet, junior middle blocker Carrie Bowers has played in every game this season and leads the team with 116 total blocks. She led the Cougars with 10 blocks last week.
Two-time all-MWC setter Karina Puikkonen continues to lead the BYU offense as she averaged 12.71 apg last week. Junior defensive specialist Uila Crabbe, currently ninth in the MWC with 2.66 dpg, anchored the Cougar defense as she put up a team-high 33 digs.
The BYU infirmary continues to stay busy as Varner is expected to be out several more weeks. Bowers does not practice and has not missed a game this season, but her effectiveness has been curtailed by her injuries. Redshirt middle blocker Lexi Brown is gone for the season after tearing an ACL earlier in the year. Lindsey Metcalf and Laura Nielsen have both returned in the last two weeks from a sprained ankle and broken foot, respectively.
"Every week it depends on how each of the players comes to play," Lamb said. "There's no flexibility as far as substitutions go. There's no depth and when a player is struggling coming off an injury or just not playing well, I really don't have any options."
The Lobos and Falcons are tied for last place in the MWC with identical 2-6 records. Each team struggled at the start of the season, followed by a winning spurt, but both have fallen on hard times recently.
The Lobos (7-14, 2-6) snapped a six-match losing streak in sweeping Air Force Friday. This has been a season of streaks for New Mexico as it started the season losing seven in a row and also won five in a row before its most recent skid. The Cougars swept an earlier meeting with the Lobos and now own a 51-7 all-time record against New Mexico, including 21-4 in Albuquerque, N.M.
New Mexico is directed by first-year head coach Kelley Sliva. In MWC play the Lobos are led by Anna Reines who is seventh in kills (3.62 kpg), Vanessa Shields who is 13th in kills (3.04 kpg) and Monica Meihack who is seventh in assists (10.52 apg).
The Falcons (8-15, 2-6) have lost five consecutive matches heading into this weekend's play. They will play No. 22 Utah Friday before hosting the Cougars. Air Force defeated the Cougars for the first time in history Oct. 4. The Falcons are 1-8 all-time against the Cougars.
Air Force is led by the duo of Delavane Diaz and Tiffany Bishop. In MWC play Diaz averages a team-high 4.00 kpg ranking fifth in the conference. Bishop averaged 3.59 kpg and a .303 attack percentage, ranking eighth in the conference in each category.
"We are doing our best to concentrate on what we can control," Lamb said. "We are doing a better job of that and our passing and serving are really improving. Being totally involved in every ball is another thing we're working on. But it all comes down to competing hard, because if we compete hard the wins will come."