Weekly Release #13 -- Cougars to Battle Rebels in First Round of MWC Tournament

Lamb Focuses on Team During Unique Season

PROVO -- In its lowest seeding ever in the Mountain West Conference Tournament, No. 4 BYU will meet No. 5 UNLV in the first round, Thursday at 4 p.m. The match will be broadcast live on BYU-TV with tape delay coverage on KBYU (Channel 11) at 11 p.m.

The Cougars (12-16, 7-7 MWC) earned a split with the Rebels (10-18, 6-8) this season, as each team won on the other team's home court. Overall BYU holds a 10-2 all-time advantage over UNLV.

"There are six teams that can legitimately compete in and win this tournament," BYU coach Karen Lamb said. "We are just as capable as anyone of those teams of having a good week and winning it all."

BYU has qualified for 20 of the 21 NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournaments that have been held, and this year the only likely way of entry seems to be through an automatic bid in winning the MWC Tournament.

"I believe in this team," Lamb said. "What's more important, though, is they believe in each other. In terms of wins this season the record may be uncharacteristic of BYU volleyball, but it is a team that is together and has improved over the course of the season."

With the possible return of April Varner this week, the Cougars hopes have further brightened their hopes of upending the top seeds. Previous to her severely sprained ankle, Varner was leading the team in kills and was coming off a career-high 23 kills in leading BYU to a win at Wyoming, Oct 19.

"April practiced on Monday for the first time since getting injured, and she looked very good," Lamb said.

An excited Varner lingered after practice on Monday and was visibly happy to be on the court.

"It's so fun being out here again," Varner said. "I don't want to leave."

There is a silver-lining to Varner's month-long absence, and that is the emergence of true freshman Kim Wilson, who last November was leading Provo High School in the Utah 4A Girls High School Volleyball Championships. Wilson has defined herself as one of the top freshman in the conference averaging 3.92 kills per game since Varner's injury contrasted with the 1.96 kpg she averaged before that.

Senior Allison Larson, perhaps sensing the mortality of the season and her career, has raised her level of play of late. Last week Larson led the team in kills with 31, including a career-high 20 kills in a win over Wyoming. Her focus is evident on the court as well as in the numbers as her .444 attack percentage would indicate.

The Cougars have never focused on what could have been without the inexperience they had entering the season or the injuries they sustained through the season. Lamb knows the ultimate balm to sooth the 16 losses this year and to ultimately redeem the season rests with BYU's ability to run the tournament table this week.

"I feel we deserve to win the tournament -- the players deserve it," Lamb said. "I think if there are any group of players who deserve it, they're playing on this team."

TELEVISION INFORMATION

BYU-TV is available on the Dish Network (channel 374) and AT&T digital cable in Utah (channel 34). Tape-delay coverage of the match is available on KBYU (channel 11)will occur at a yet to be determined time. For the latest updates on coverage times please visit theBYU women's volleyball homepage at www.byucougars.com.

COUGARS IN UPCOMING WEEKS

After the MWC Tournament and before the start of the NCAA Tournament, the Cougars close out its regular season schedule with matches against No. 3 Hawai'i, Nov. 26, and No. 16 Arizona, Nov. 29.

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