Back on Winning Track, Cougars Host Arkansas Thursday and Illinois Friday
PROVO -- The BYU women's volleyball team returns home to the Smith Fieldhouse this week after posting a 3-1 record last week. The Cougars will play Arkansas Thursday and Illinois Friday with both matches scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday's match will be broadcast live on KBYU-TV and BYU Television as well as BYU Radio.
Thursday night's match against Arkansas will be Chamber Night where chamber members will receive $1 off admission to the match. In addition, the BYU baseball team will be recognized as the 2002 Mountain West Conference champions.
Last week, the Cougars ran off a three-match win streak, their longest of the season, but they will now look to take their winning attitude into play against the Lady Razorbacks and Fighting Illini this week.
"This team made excellent progress last week," head coach Karen Lamb said. "Arkansas and Illinois are both good teams and it will be a good test to see how we've come along."
Junior setter Karina Puikkonen was in rhythm last week, displaying her all-around skills by averaging 12.92 assists, 2.08 kills, 0.46 service aces, 2.62 digs and 1.46 blocks per game while hitting .453. Puikkonen's play especially shone against No. 17 Texas A&M Saturday, as she racked up her first career triple-double with 54 assists, 15 digs and 11 kills on .455 hitting.
The Cougar offense averaged a .113 attack percentage in the first seven matches of 2002, but last week BYU hit a combined .292. Puikkonen found her comfort zone in distributing the ball evenly as all six Cougar starters averaged over two kills a game.
Redshirt freshman Lexi Brown injured her knee against Weber State when she landed on a teammate's foot and twisted her knee. She had an MRI performed and was found to have a torn ACL. Brown will rehabilitate the injury and attempt to play in the coming weeks.
Junior middleblocker Carrie Bowers is becoming a progressively dominant force. Since Brown went down, Bowers has been a model of offensive consistency. For the week she averaged 3.15 kills and 1.69 blocks (both team-highs) with a .366 attack percentage. She stepped up her play against Texas A&M where she collected 14 kills and a .333 hitting percentage while picking up four blocks.
Junior transfer Laura Nielsen stepped in for Brown last week and performed well in her first opportunity of extended playing time. For the week she averaged 2.83 kills, 1.17 digs, 1.17 blocks per game while hitting .301. Against Weber State she made an immediate impact as she recorded seven kills with only one hitting error on .667 hitting after coming in for Brown.
"We had nice play from a lot of people last week," Lamb said. "Karina had a great week, Carrie is getting better all the time and Laura did a great job of stepping in for Lexi."
The Lady Razorbacks got off to a 7-0 start, before losing twice last week to Louisville and No. 17 Colorado State. The 8-2 team returns three starters to a squad that went 21-12 in 2001 in winning the Southeastern Conference West. This will mark the first meeting between BYU and Arkansas.
Arkansas is led by a pair of 6-foot-2 middleblockers. Senior Libby Windell and Sophomore Jennifer Haaser anchor the Lady Razorback attack with 2.94 (.367) and 3.78 kills (.249), respectively. Arkansas is outblocking its opponents 123.0-60.0 (3.42-1.67 bpg), while holding a .265 to .181 hitting percentage advantage.
The Cougars will take on Illinois Friday, a squad that was a No. 19 in the preseason USA Today/AVCA Coaches Top 25 Poll. The Fighting Illini (5-2) are on a three-match winning streak on the strength of clinching the Illini Classic last week. The Cougars hold a 4-0 advantage all-time over Illinois. The last meeting between the two teams was a five-game match the Cougars squeaked out in 1988.
Headlining the Fighting Illini lineup is 6-5 junior middleblocker Lisa Argabright. She has collected over half of the Fighting Illini's 59 blocks (32). Argabright also collects 3.04 kpg on .346 hitting. Melissa Vandrey is a threat on the outside as she averages a team-high 3.30 kpg (.223).
"We're getting to the point where we're playing hard and consistent," Lamb said. "So with that there's more opportunity to implement different strategies. There should be some great volleyball played this week."