PROVO -- BYU hosts the 2001 Mountain West Conference Tournament starting Thursday at the Smith Fieldhouse. Seeded No. 3, BYU faces seventh seeded Wyoming in first round for the third straight year in the MWC Tournament.
No. 18 BYU is 18-6 overall this season after a 10-4 conference record. Wyoming is 9-14 and went 4-10 in league play. BYU won last year's championship in Fort Collins, Colo., and Colorado State won the the inaugural title in Provo in 1999.
QUICK LOOK AT THE COWGIRLS
Wyoming is 9-14 overall. The Cowgirls are alone in sixth place in the conference standings at 4-10, an improvement from last year's 2-12, 7th place finish. Wyoming hits .193 as a team and its opponents have a .198 attack percentage. The Cowgirls average 2.1 blocks per game. Rachel Lau is the Cowgirls lone senior and team leader, averaging 3.64 hits per game and 1.02 blocks per game. To date, Michelle Rauter has recorded 232 kills (3.46/game) this season while playing in only 67 of the teams 85 games. The Cowgirls look to Amy Doman to coordinate the offense with her 11.55 assists per game.
Wyoming comes into the MWC tournament on a winning note after defeating Air Force in three-games, snapping a seven-game conference losing streak. The Cowgirls played New Mexico to five-games in a loss on Nov. 9.
BYU is 49-3-0 all-time vs. the Cowgirls, including a three-game victory in Laramie back in October, and a three-game victory in Provo earlier this month. BYU has faced Wyoming in the first round of the MWC tournament in every year of the tournament's young history, and the Cougars matched up against the Cowgirls in the final year as members of the Western Athletic Conference. The Cougars have defeated Wyoming in the conference tournament three consecutive years.
In last year's tournament, BYU won in four games, 15-6, 15-6, 7-15, 15-5, against Wyoming in the first round. In that match, Nina Puikkonen set a MWC Tournament match record for blocks with 13. Puikkonen also set an individual MWC Tournament hitting percentage record with a .667 attack percentage. Puikkonen finished with 12 kills and no hitting errors in the match.
BYU is 24-1 at home all-time vs. Wyoming and BYU has won 24 straight matches in the overall series.
Against Wyoming in the 2001 season, the Cougars marked a .251 attack percentage, while holding the Cowgirls to a .061 attack percentage. BYU averaged over 5 more kills per game than Wyoming and 3.5 team blocks per game against 1.33 team blocks per game by Wyoming.
FIRST MEETING VS. THE COWGIRLS
LARAMIE -- Led by Sunny Mahe's 15 kills and .542 attack percentage, No. 14 BYU improved to 10-1 overall and 4-0 in the Mountain West Conference with a three-game victory over Wyoming Friday. Wyoming fell to 6-5 overall and 1-2 in conference play with the 30-24, 30-27, 30-24 defeat.
Mahe, who was named the AVCA Sports Imports National Player of the Week Monday, continued her strong play with a mach-high 15 kills with only two hitting errors in 24 attempts. She also added six blocks and four digs.
BYU handed the Cowgirls only their second loss in seven home matches this season at Multi-Purpose Gym. The Cougars led the Cowgirls in every statistical category but did not have a strong offensive outing, hitting .211 for the match. BYU was strong on defense, however, holding Wyoming to a .053 hitting percentage while out blocking the Cowgirls 12 blocks to four.
"Sunny and Natalie (Whittaker) carried us tonight because we didn't really play very well overall," BYU coach Elaine Michaelis said. "Sunny had her usual great match and Natalie hit .294 and was strong as usual on defense. Wyoming was very aggressive and confident and has a good young team. We just made a lot of errors."
All-American middle blocker Nina Puikkonen put down 11 kills, her 11th straight match with 10 or more kills, while totaling a match-high seven blocks and eight digs. Jackie Bundy added eight kills while Natalie Whittaker and freshman Lauren Richards contributed seven kills apiece. Richards played in her first match of the year after initial plans to redshirt this season. Defensive
specialist Uila Crabbe had a match-best 11 digs for the Cougars.
Michele Rauter and Sara Maytorena led Wyoming with 10 kills each while Rauter and Jill Roslund tallied a team-best nine digs. Melissa Robinett was the only Cowgirl to have more than one block, with one block solo and one block assist.
SECOND MEETING VS. THE COWGIRLS
PROVO -- Nina Puikkonen and No. 16 BYU defeated the Cowgirls in three straight games Saturday at the Smith Fieldhouse. The Cougars improved to 17-5 overall as they won, 30-16, 30-20, 30-27, and Wyoming dropped to 8-12 overall.
The Cougars cleared the bench in the third game as they improved to 9-3 in Mountain West Conference play and Wyoming fell to 3-8 in conference play.
"It's good to give everyone an opportunity play," BYU head coach Elaine Michaelis said. "They all work hard in practice and deserve an opportunity to put their skills on the court."
After the tough loss to Colorado State, Puikkonen came out swinging, putting down 6 kills in the first game on the way to 10 kills for the match and four blocks, which all came in the first game. Jackie Bundy finished with 12 kills, seven digs and three blocks. Natalie Whittaker finished with nine kills and nine digs, shining with Puikkonen and Bundy on Senior Night at the Smith Fieldhouse.
BYU's senior triumvirate, Puikkonen, Bundy and Whittaker, were honored before the last home game of the regular season. The three were honored along with sole Wyoming senior Rachel Lau, who led the Cowgirls with 10 kills on the night.
Karina Puikkonen dominated the passing and set the tone for the Cougar attack with 36 assists.
"Wyoming had no answer for Karina," Michaelis said. "She put the ball up high and tight."
If BYU advances to the semifinal round, the match will be televised live on KBYU, channel 11, and BYU-TV. If BYU advances to the championship round, the match will be televised taped-delay at 11:30 p.m. on KSL, channel 5.
For the second straight year, all matches will be produced by SportsWest Productions for broadcast in local Mountain West markets. Satellite coordinates for the tournament are: Galaxy C11, Transponder 20, down link frequency 4100 Mhz, 91 degrees.
BYU BRIEF OUTLOOK
The 2001 Cougars are led by first-team AVCA All-American middle blocker Nina Puikkonen and NCAA All-West Region rightside hitter Sunny Tonga Mahe. Mahe is a junior in 2001 while Puikkonen is one of three seniors returning with significant court experience. She is joined by fellow seniors Jackie Bundy, an All-MWC middle blocker who finished 12th nationally in blocking last year, and Natalie Whittaker, BYU's top reserve last season. The Cougars also return setter Karina Puikkonen, who earned all-conference honors last year as a freshman. While Michaelis returns four all-conference starters, she will need to replace the services of starting outside hitters Melissa Layton and Kalani Tonga. Reserve middle blocker Alyssa Barrus and backup setter Martha Brinton also won't return in 2001. Both players decided to leave on an 18-month mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with Barrus to serve in Washington, D.C. and Brinton in Switzerland. Whittaker, junior transfer Allison Holsten Larson and the redshirt freshman tandem of Lindsey Steele and Becky Warnick all are talented players with the potential to fill the void left on the outside. Freshman Lauren Richards could play outside or setter. A solid freshmen recruiting class join sophomore Carrie Bowers (middle blocker/rightside hitter), sophomore Uila Crabbe (defensive specialist) and junior Michelle Mahaffey (defensive specialist) to provide Michaelis with a strong supporting cast. Last year, the Cougars were ranked second nationally in blocking and eighth in hitting and should continue to excel in those categories in 2001. With Karina Puikkonen having a year of experience on her resume and setting many of the same hitters, BYU's offense should again be one of the nation's most potent. The Cougar block could be the nation's best with Puikkonen and Bundy in the middle.
BYU LAST WEEK
BYU went 1-1 last week with a road win at San Diego State and a road loss to UNLV. The loss to UNLV marked the first ever against the school, moving BYU's all-time record against the Rebels to 9-1. BYU hit .274 as a team last week while its opponents had a .216 attack percentage. The Cougars averaged 16.57 kills per game in the two matches. Senior Nina Puikkonen hit .367 for the week with 32 kills (4.57 kpg) and averaged 1.86 blocks per game on 13 total blocks. Sunny Mahe finished with 23 kills (3.29 kpg) in seven games as well as 10 blocks (1.43 bpg).
BYU is 13-3 this year in three-game matches. The Cougars are 4-1 when going four games and 1-2 in five-game contests.
PUIKKONEN EARNED SIXTH CAREER CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Senior middle blocker Nina Puikkonen was named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Week along with Colorado State's Courtney Cox on Oct. 29. Puikkonen led BYU to three road wins, averaging 5.00 kills, 2.30 digs, 2.30 blocks and hitting .438 for the week. She had the Cougars' top attack percentage and totaled team bests of 50 kills and 23 blocks. She was third with 23 digs behind team-leader Natalie Whittaker's 26 and DS Uila Crabbe's 25. After recording 24 kills, 14 digs, eight blocks and a .500 attack percentage in a tough five-game loss at No. 18 Utah, Puikkonen continued her hot play. She started the week by nearly putting up another triple-double with 21 kills, a season-high 18 digs and nine blocks while hitting .400 at Sacramento State. At Air Force, Puikkonen again had match highs with 17 kills and 10 blocks (equaling a season high) in just three games while hitting a season-best .609. Puikkonen recorded 12 kills, five digs and four blocks while hitting .318 against New Mexico.
RARE HOME LOSING STREAK
The Cougars lost a regular season match to Colorado State in Provo for the first time since 1984 with the 24-30, 28-30, 27-30 defeat. Having lost its prior home match to Utah State (0-3) on Oct. 16, BYU suffered consecutive home losses for the first time since September 1996 when the Cougars lost three straight to Pacific, Pepperdine and Long Beach State. It marked the first time since September of 1992 that BYU had been swept in consecutive home matches (swept in three straight matches by UCLA, Florida and Stanford). In BYU's 33-year recorded history, the Cougars have only had eight occasions when they have suffered a multiple-match home losing streak. The Cougars longest home losing streak is four matches (lost to USC last match of 1991, then lost three straight in first three home matches of 1992 to UCLA, Florida and Stanford).
BYU IN MWC PLAY
At 10-4, BYU has four losses in league play for the first time in the three-year existence of the Mountain West Conference. The Cougars won the inaugural season with a 13-1 mark and finished second in 2000 with a 12-2 record. All but one of BYU's combined seven conference regular season losses over the three years have all come against Colorado State (4) and Utah (2), with the seventh coming against UNLV last Friday. Overall, BYU has a 356-37 (.906) series record against MWC teams.
PUIKKONEN DOUBLE-DIGIT STREAK
Nina Puikkonen had her string of consecutive matches with 10 or more kills come to an end Friday in BYU's loss to No. 6 Colorado State. She had season lows of 13 attempts and three kills. She rebounded with 10 kills against Wyoming on Saturday and now has 21 double-digit kills games this year. The last time she failed to reach double figures in kills was in the Cougars' season-ending loss to Arizona in the NCAA Regional Semifinals last year in Lincoln, Neb.(she had eight kills). Puikkonen had 28 double-digit kills matches last season.
FROM REDSHIRT TO RED HOT
Lauren Richards, who relinquished her redshirt season against Wyoming in October, led the Cougars against San Diego State with 12 kills on a career-high .471 attack percentage.
Nina Puikkonen recorded a team-leading 10 double-doubles so far this season for the Cougars.
NINA PASSES ANOTHER MILESTONE
Puikkonen moved into fourth place, passing Amy Steele Gant, on BYU's career block solos list with her solo block at Air Force. She added nine block assists at Air Forece to equal her season-best 10 blocks. Puikkonen needs six more block solos to move into third place past Jill Plumb. Puikkonen is second all-time in block assists and total blocks at BYU and is the school's leader in blocks per game.
BYU had its 20 match home winning streak come to an end on Oct. 16 in a 0-3 loss to Utah State in the Smith Fieldhouse. It was the first time the Cougars have been swept at home since losing to Colorado State in the 1999 Mountain West Conference Tournament title match. The last team to defeat BYU in the Smith Fieldhouse before the Aggies was nationally ranked Arizona on Sept. 15, 2000.
Senior middle blocker Jackie Bundy had a double-double (14 kills, 10 digs) in the return to her hometown of Sacramento. She hit a season-high .526 with 13 kills to lead BYU to a 3-0 victory at New Mexico. She averaged 3.5 kills per game last week. Bundy has reached double figures in kills 13 times this year, including a team-high 12 kills in BYU's win over Wyoming Saturday.
1,100 AND COUNTING
BYU coach Elaine Michaelis has coached 1,112 recorded (since 1969) matches. She has won nearly 80 percent of those matches, with 885 wins. She is second in all-time Division I victories.
On the year, Nina Puikkonen leads the Cougars with 435 points (5.24 ppg), followed by Sunny Mahe with 369.5 (4.56 ppg) and Jackie Bundy with 329.0 (4.01 ppg).
Senior middle blocker Jackie Bundy has recorded BYU's only triple double of the year. She had her first career triple-double in BYU's win over No. 23 Colorado. She totaled 15 kills, 12 digs and a season-high 10 blocks on the night.
BYU PLAYER PROFILES
NINA PUIKKONEN Â• 6-3 Â• Sr Â• MB
A three-time All-American, last year Nina was named to the AVCA and Volleyball Magazine All-America First Teams and was the only player selected AVCA National Player of the Week twice last season ... she was a Volleyball magazine freshman All-American and earned second-team AVCA and Volleyball Magazine All-America honors as a sophomore ... last year she was named to the all-west region team ... led team in kills with 4.11 kpg ... second in conference in kills ... tenth in the conference in hitting percentage (.318) ... led the team in blocks with 132 (1.59 bpg) ... third in the conference in blocks (1.49) ... was third on the team in digs (2.18 dpg) ... MWC Player of the Week once in 2001 ... was the MWC Player of the Week four times in 2000 and was an all-conference selection for the third straight year ... was named the MVP of the 2000 MWC tournament after leading the Cougars to the tournament championship.
KARINA PUIKKONEN Â• 6-0 Â• SO Â• S
Sister of Nina Puikkonen, last year Karina was named all-conference in her first season as the Cougars' setter ... continued as the Cougar's dominant setter with 12.75 apg ... second in conference in assists (12.28) ... set a new career high of 10 kills this season, while averaging 1.52 kpg ... qualifying as a setter, she is fourth in the conference in hitting percentage (.369)... fifth on the team with 1.90 digs and 0.90 blocks per game ... played in all 83 games.
JACKIE BUNDY Â• 6-1 Â• Sr Â• MB
Last year Jackie was an all-MWC selection last year in her second season starting in the middle ... ranked 12th nationally in blocking (1.58) ... had a BYU season-best 14 blocks at Notre Dame ... in 20001 Bundy was third on the team with 3.17 kills per game ... finished with 1.17 blocks per game on 96 blocks ... eighth in conference in blocks (1.18) ... fourth on the Cougar squad with 1.95 dpg ... eighth in the conference in points (4.33) ... played in 82 of 83 games.
SUNNY MAHE Â• 6-2 Â• JR Â• rs
Last year Sunny was named to the All-Mountain West Conference team as a sophomore after earning freshman All-America honors ... was named to the all-MWC tournament team, BYU Mizuno Classic team and Shamrock Invitational team ... in 2001, Mahe was named AVCA Nationa l Player of the Week ... named MWC Player of the Week twice in 2001 ... second on the team averaging 3.65 kills per game ... eighth in the conference in kills (3.57) ... seventh in the conference with .357 hitting percentage ... second on team in attack percentage (.330) ... ninth in the conference in points (4.22) ... leads team with 27 service aces (.33 apg) ... played in 81 of 83 games.
NATALIE WHITTAKER Â• 6-0 Â• Sr Â• oh
Returning in 2001, led the Cougars defensively with 259 digs (3.12 dpg) ... second in the conference in digs (2.87) ... averaged 2.00 kills per game will hitting .238 ... played in all 83 games.
UILA CRABBE Â• 5-7 Â• SO Â• DS
Played in every game for BYU this season ... second on the team with 207 digs (2.49 dpg) ... sixth in the conference in digs (2.46) ... second on the team with 25 service aces (.30) ... last year Uila played in 31 of 114 games as a true freshman while appearing in 16 matches after being high school player of the year in Hawaii.
CARRIE BOWERS Â• 6-2 Â• SO Â• mb
Played in six games for the Cougars this year while nursing an injury ... good middle blocker, but can also play rigth side ... last year Carrie appeared in four matches, playing only four games as a redshirt freshman.
MICHELLE MAHAFFEY Â• 5-6 Â• JR Â• DS
Played in 18 games this season ... avaraged 1.11 digs per game for the Cougars, providing a defensive spark ... recorded two service aces with no service errors in limited action ... last year Michelle appeared in six matches, playing in six games as a sophomore.
BECKY WARNICK Â• 5-11 Â• FR Â• oh
Played in 24 games this season ... recorded 43 kills (1.79) ... recorded 12 digs ... a well-conditioned athlete with good fundamentals ... last year Becky redshirted after earning first-team All-CIF honors at Capistrano Valley HS (Calif.)
LINDSEY STEELE Â• 6-0 Â• FR Â• oh
Played in 17 games ... recorded 10 kills and 5 blocks ... jumps well, quick and very coachable ... last year Lindsey redshirted after earning first-team all-state honors at Mountain View HS (Utah).
ALLISON LARSON Â• 6-0 Â• JR Â• MB/oh
Played in 17 games this season ... recorded 25 kills (1.47) ... 12 digs and eight blocks ... Allison joins the Cougars from Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Wash. ... was a two-time JC All-American ... hit .432 while averaging 4.66 kills, 3.79 digs and 1.40 blocks last year.
LAUREN RICHARDS Â• 5-11 Â• FR Â• s/oh
Relinquished redshirt against Wyoming on Oct. 5 ... played in 46 games this season ... recorded 105 kills (2.28) ... helped frontline with 20 blocks (.43 bpg) ... Lauren was a three-time all-state first team player and two time state MVP and Gatorade Player of the Year at Timpanogos High School in Orem,Utah ... setter on junior national team ... rated 12th on Volleyball magazine's Fab 50 list ... recruited by UCLA, Nebraska, Long Beach State, Stanford, Utah, Colorado State.
COACH ELAINE MICHAELIS PROFILE
Now in her 40th year at the helm of the BYU program, Elaine Michaelis also enters her seventh year as Director of Women's Athletics. A proven winner, Michaelis is second all-time in Division I victories with an 885-222-5 record (since records were kept in 1969) and has the most wins ever by a female coach. With BYU's 26-7 record last season, Michaelis posted her 27th consecutive 20-win season and her 29th in 32 years since records have been kept at BYU beginning in 1969. She has never had a losing season. Her team won last year's Mountain West Tournament title after winning the previous season's inaugural MWC regular season title. She has the distinction of winning the inaugural championship in each of the five leagues in which BYU has been a volleyball member. Michaelis is 31-5 in MWC play in three years and now has an overall conference mark of 356-37. She has guided her team to the NCAA tournament 19 times in the 20-year history of NCAA control of the sport, including 11 straight appearances. Her teams have participated in 29 of 32 national tournaments. BYU's two wins last year in the NCAA tournament improved Michaelis' national tournament record to 73-43 (.629). Michaelis is 26-19 (.578) in the NCAA tournament.