Weekly Release #2 -- BYU Hosts Mizuno Classic

Coming off a sweep of Rhode Island Monday, the Cougars stay in Provo this week to host the annual BYU Mizuno Classic Thursday - Saturday at the Smith Fieldhouse. This year's tournament includes No. 23 Colorado of the Big 12 Conference and Southwest Missouri State of the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Cougars, 3-1 and ranked No. 16 in the latest USA Today/AVCA Top 25 Poll, face the 23-ranked Buffaloes Thursday at 7 p.m. and the Bears Saturday at 7 p.m. Colorado and Southwest Missouri State play the Friday night match, also a 7 p.m. start.

The Buffs and the Bears enter the Classic with perfect 3-0 records. Colorado opened its season by winning its own tournament with wins over Clemson (3-1), No. 24 Loyola Marymount (3-0) and Oral Roberts (3-1). Southwest Missouri State won the Four Points Titan Classic by defeating Iowa (3-1), Manhattan College (3-2) and tournament host Cal State Fullerton (3-1). The Bears' Therese McNatt earned MVP honors.

BYU has a 5-1 series record vs. Colorado, but the Buffaloes won the last meeting, 3-1, in the 1995 Mizuno Classic. BYU's last match with Southwest Missouri State was in the 1989 Mizuno Classic, a 3-1 Cougar victory.

"Colorado and Southwest Missouri State are both good teams that went 3-0 last week," BYU coach Elaine Michaelis said. "I thought we played well Monday in our home-opener and hope we can continue to improve during the Mizuno Classic in front of our home crowd. Our fans should see some good volleyball this week."

BYU Mizuno Classic • Provo, Utah • Smith Fieldhouse

Thursday, Sept. 6

No. 16 BYU (3-1) vs. No. 23 Colorado (3-0) -- 7 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 7

No. 23 Colorado vs. Southwest Missouri State (3-0) -- 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 8

No. 16 BYU vs. Southwest Missouri State -- 7 p.m.

COLORADO NOTES

The Colorado Volleyball team (3-0) earned it's first ranking since the final poll of the 1999 season as the AVCA/USA Today Coaches Poll put the Buffs in the No. 23 spot Sept. 3.

The Buffs opened up the 2001 season on a good note as they swept the competition at their own season-opening tournament. The Buffs opened the season Aug. 31 with a 3-1 win over Clemson, then turned around on Sept. 1 with a good 3-0 win over No. 24 Loyola Marymount before closing out the tourney with a 3-1 victory over Oral Roberts Sept. 2. The Buffs Elizabeth Gower was named the tourney MVP and Sonja Russell and Monique Gerlach were also tabbed all-tournament.

SOUTHWEST MISSOURI STATE NOTES

The SMS Bears return 10 letterwinners and five starters from a team that finished 27-7 in 2000 and finished third (14-4) in the Missouri Valley Conference. Southwest Missouri State started the season on the road last week by winning the Four Points Titan Classic. The Bears defeated Iowa (3-1), Manhattan College (3-2) and tournament host Cal State Fullerton (3-1).

The Bears' Therese McNatt earned MVP honors. SMS comes into this tournament with a 19-match winning streak in regular season tournaments. Since 1999, the Bears have played in six tournaments (not including postseason tournaments) without losing a match. The Bears last loss in an invitational was in five games to Hofstra at the 1999 Hofstra Classic.

Just a sophomore, setter Chenille Bayless already ranks ninth in SMS history in career assists. She has 1,587 and has a chance to break the school record of 2,770 in just two years as a collegiate setter.

SERIES NOTES

BYU has a 5-1 series record vs. Colorado, but the Buffaloes won the last meeting, 3-1, in the 1995 Mizuno Classic. BYU has won three of four matches in Provo during the series, which began in 1973. BYU's last match with Southwest Missouri State was in the 1989 Mizuno Classic, a 3-1 Cougar victory. This year's match will be only the second played in Provo during the series, which began in 1975.

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 will be 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. 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 SWEEPS RHODE ISLAND IN HOME OPENER MONDAY

PROVO -- All-American Nina Puikkonen put down 15 kills and Sunny Tonga added 10 as BYU defeated Rhode Island, 30-21, 30-19, 30-25, Monday in front of 1,390 volleyball fans at the Smith Fieldhouse. The Cougars, ranked 16th in the USA Today/AVCA Top 25 Poll released Monday, improved to 3-1 on the season with the win while the Rams dropped to 0-4. The Cougars hit a season-high .303 as a team while holding the Rams to a .050 attack percentage. Mahe hit .421 with only two hitting errors in 19 attacks while Nina Puikkonen hit .355, making only four errors in 31 attempts. In all, five Cougars hit .300 or better. Puikkonen finished the night just three kills from overtaking fifth place on BYU's all-time kills list. She should pass former Cougar All-American Gale Johnson (1993-96) during Thursday's match with No. 23 Colorado. The Cougars also excelled on the defensive side of the net. BYU totaled 14 team blocks while the shorter Ram front line mustered just three. Puikkonen tallied a match-high six blocks. Natalie Whittaker led BYU's back row effort with a match-high 15 digs, helping the Cougars tally 48 digs compared to 36 by the Rams. One of Karina Puikkonen's eight digs was a pancake save that seemed certain to reach the floor before she slid under it at the last minute. The Cougars took the momentum and quickly transitioned into an offensive attack that produced a Whittaker kill to give BYU a 26-17 lead in game two.

BYU'S MAHE NAMED MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE WEEK

BYU junior outside hitter Sunny Mahe was named the Mountain West Conference Volleyball Player of the Week, marking the second time overall she has earned the award. A native of Allen, Texas (Allen HS), Mahe led BYU with 45 kills (3.75 per game) and a .330 hitting percentage (45k-11e-103a) as the Cougars posted a 2-1 record at the Washington Tournament in Seattle last weekend. Mahe, who earned all-tournament honors, posted her best numbers of the week in a four-game win against Purdue with a career-high 22 kills, 12 digs, five total blocks and a .724 hitting percentage. She also had nine kills in a sweep of Washington and 14 kills in a five-game loss to Texas. For the week, Mahe racked up 23 digs, (1.92 per game), 13 total blocks (1.08 per game), four aces (.33 per game) and 56.5 points, which ranks second in the MWC.

CURRENT COUGAR NOTABLES

• BYU's Sunny Mahe and Nina Puikkonen were two of six players named to the Point Huskies Invitational All-Tournament Team.

• All-American Nina Puikkonen moved into sixth place on BYU's all-time kills list with her second kill in BYU's win over Purdue on Saturday. With her 15 kills Monday, she now has 1,338 career kills and needs just 3 kills to move into fifth place past Gale Johnson. Puikkonen averaged 3.67 kills, 2.92 digs and 1.33 blocks last week despite not being 100 percent. She is coming back from a stress fracture in her left leg.

• BYU improved its record against Pac-10 opponents to 93-58-1 (.615) with its win over Washington and is now 24-6 (.800) against the Big-10 with its win over Purdue. The loss to Texas dropped the Cougars record vs. the Big XII to 35-15 (.700). BYU is now 11-0 vs. Washington, 9-6 vs. Texas and 3-1 vs. Purdue all-time. BYU improved to 6-0 vs. the Atlantic 10 and 3-0 vs. Rhode Island with its win.

• Sophomore setter Karina Puikkonen is attacking effectively while hitting a team-leading .452 attack percentage with 23 kills (1.53 kpg). She is also averaged 12.07 assists, 2.00 digs, and 1.07 blocks.

• Several Cougars set or came close to career marks in loss to Texas, as five players recorded double-doubles. Sophomore setter Karina Puikkonen set a new personal attack percentage high at .583 while finishing just one kill and one dig short of career bests with 8 and 11, respectively. Senior outside hitter Natalie Whittaker set new personal bests with 14 kills and a match-high 19 digs, and Jackie Bundy equaled her kills high with 16 and added 12 digs, just two shy of her best-ever digs effort. Nina Puikkonen had a double--double with 19 kills with 14 digs and Uila Crabbe had career highs of 17 digs and 4 service aces.

• Sophomore defensive specialist Uila Crabbe had 11 service aces in 12 games (0.92 sapg). She had 3 aces vs. Washington and then back-to-back career --best efforts with 4 aces against both Texas and Purdue.

• With four all-conference starters returning, BYU coach Elaine Michaelis is looking to replace her two starting outside hitters from last season. Three players have played the outside spots this year. Senior Natalie Whittaker has played in all 15 games and averaged 2.07 kills, and a team-best 3.87 digs while hitting .189. Redshirt freshman Becky Warnick has played in 8 games with 18 kills (2.25 kpg) while hitting .233 and junior college All-American transfer Allison Larson has played in 10 games with 14 kills while hitting .043.

• BYU has a 12-match home winning streak dating back to last year.

QUOTING MICHAELIS

ON MIZUNO CLASSIC -- "Colorado and Southwest Missouri State are both good teams that went 3-0 last week," BYU coach Elaine Michaelis said. "I thought we played well Monday in our home-opener and hope we can continue to improve during the Mizuno Classic in front of our home crowd. Our fans should see some good volleyball this week."

ON WIN OVER RHODE ISLAND MONDAY -- "Our offense was better (than last week), much faster, and the hitters were going hard. (Setter) Karina (Puikkonen) created some nice hitting options where Rhode Island did not have a blocker up or only one blocker. We blocked well and we made some nice defensive plays.Natalie (Whittaker), Uila (Crabbe) and Karina all made some very nice plays to keep the ball off the floor."

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