Weekly Release #8 -- BYU Faces In-State Rivals

BYU's 13th-ranked women's volleyball team hosts two in-state rivals this week. The Cougars host 9-4 Utah State Tuesday at the Smith Fieldhouse before facing No. 18 Utah Friday in Salt Lake City. Both matches begin at 7 p.m.

Tuesday's match with San Diego State will be televised on KBYU-TV, channel 11, and BYU-TV, which is available on Dish Network 500, DirectTV, and some cable systems.

The Cougars, 12-2 and 6-1 in the Mountain West Conference, enter Tuesday's match against the Aggies with a 20-match home win streak, including a perfect 9-0 record in the Smith Fieldhouse this year. The Cougars are led by senior All-American Nina Puikkonen, who averaged five kills, three digs and two blocks per game in two victories last week. BYU moved up one spot in the AVCA/USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll with its wins over San Diego State and UNLV.

After earning a top-25 ranking and advancing to the NCAA tournament last year, Utah State is off to a strong start again this season. The 9-4 Aggies are 6-1 in the Big West Conference and have won five straight matches, including a win over No. 12 Pacific. All four Aggie losses have come against top-20 teams.

Utah, 11-4 overall and 5-2 in the Mountain West Conference, also plays an in-state non-conference match Tuesday before hosting the Cougars Friday. The Utes host Weber State Tuesday at Crimson Court, where Utah is 8-0 this year.

"We have some great volleyball teams in the state," BYU coach Elaine Michaelis said. "Utah State is playing very well and has just knocked off a very good Pacific team. Utah is always tough and this is a league game at their place, where they beat us last year. They are playing very well right now also, so this is going to be a challenging week."

THIS WEEK UP CLOSE

Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2001

No. 13 BYU (12-2, 6-1 MWC) vs. Utah St. (9-4, 6-1 Big West)

Smith Fieldhouse (5,000) • Provo, Utah • 7 p.m. MDT • KBYU/BYU-TV

Friday, Oct. 19, 2001

No. 13 BYU at No. 18 Utah (11-4, 5-2 MWC)*

Crimson Court (1,500) • Salt Lake City • 7 p.m. MDT

* Utah hosts Weber State Tuesday

LOOKING AT THE AGGIES

Utah State welcomes back three starters and seven letterwinners from last year's team that went 22-10 overall and finished in fourth-place in the Big West Conference with a 10-6 league mark. Among those three starters returning for USU is senior setter Chelsi Neves who was a second-team all-Big West selection as a junior after finishing third in the league with 12.64 assists per game.Utah State will begin a five-match road trip this Tuesday at No. 13 BYU. USU will then return to Big West Conference play with a match at Idaho on Friday, Oct. 19. With its 6-1 record to begin the 2001 league season, Utah State is off to its best-ever start in the Big West Conference. USU's previous best start in league play was accomplished in each of the last two seasons when those Aggie teams began the year with a 6-2 record.

SERIES INFO

BYU lost to Utah State last year during the regular season before defeating the Aggies in the second round of the NCAA tournament. BYU is 45-9 against Utah State, with a 19-1 record at home against the Aggies.

GENERAL INFO

Location: Logan, Utah

Enrollment: 21,490

Nickname: Aggies

Colors: Navy Blue and White

Facility: Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (10,270)

Conference: Big West

VOLLEYBALL INFO

Series Record: 47-9-0

Last Meeting: 2000

Result: BYU (3-0)

Head Coach: Burt Fuller

Overall Record (Years): First Year

Record at School (Years): First Year

Assistant Coaches: Matt Johnson, Shay Clemensen

2000 Overall Record: 22-10

2000 Conference Record/Finish: 10-6/4th

2000 Final Ranking: 22nd

Post Season Finish: Second Round

PLAYER INFO

Starters Returning/Lost: 3/3

Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 7/4

Top Returners:

Chelsi Neves, 5-9, Sr., S

Michelle Matheson, 6-0, Sr., MB

Top Newcomers:

Lisa Borom, 6-1, Sr., OH

Melissa Owen, 6-2, Fr., MB

LOOKING AT THE UTES

The Utes were a perfect 2-0 last week, defeating the UNLV Rebels and the San Diego State Aztecs at Crimson Court. Utah swept the Rebels, 30-27, 30-20, 30-23 and topped the Aztecs, 30-19, 30-18, 30-17. The Utes are a perfect 8-0 at home this season and are on a 10-match overall home win streak. Utah is currently 11-4 overall, 5-2 in MWC play. The Utes return four starters, 10 letterwinners and add three true freshmen, along with two transfers to this year's roster. Utah stays at No. 18 this week in the Oct. 15 USA Today/AVCA Top-25 poll. The Utes have been ranked for eight consecutive weeks. Utah junior outside hitter Sylva Strzinkova was named Mountain West Conference Volleyball Player of the Week Monday, marking the first time she has earned the award.

SERIES INFO

BYU split two regular season matches with Utah last year, before defeating the Utes in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament. BYU's loss was in Salt Lake City -- which ended a nine-match winning streak over the Utes. BYU is 60-7 all-time vs. Utah, including a 19-6 record at Crimson Court. BYU won the first meeting this year in Provo, 30-26, 30-25, 30-25.

GENERAL INFO

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Enrollment: 25,803

Nickname: Utes

Colors: Crimson and White

Facility: Crimson Court (1,500)

Conference: Mountain West

VOLLEYBALL INFO

Series Record: 60-7-0

Last Meeting: 2000

Result: BYU (3-1)

Head Coach: Beth Launiere

Overall Record (Years): 203-146 (11)

Record at School (Years): 203-146 (11)

Assistant Coaches: Matt McShane, Zuzana Zikova

2000 Overall Record: 23-8

2000 Conference Record/Finish: 10-4/3rd

2000 Final Ranking: 20th

Post Season Finish: Second round

PLAYER INFO

Starters Returning/Lost: 4/2

Letterwinners Returning/Lost:10/6

Top Returners:

Kim Turner, 6-2, So., MB

McKelle Stilson, 6-1, Sr., MB

Top Newcomers:

Shelly Hundley, 6-1, Fr., OH

Sylva Strzinkova, 6-1, Jr., OH

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 extended its home court winning streak to 20 with wins over San Diego State and UNLV in the Smith Fieldhouse. The Cougars improved to 12-0 when they out block their opponents, edging San Diego State 14.0 to 13.0 and UNLV 10.5 to 10.0 in blocks. Four Cougars had 10 or more kills against San Diego State Friday, including Nina Puikkonen who nearly had her third career triple-double with 21 kills, 12 digs, and nine blocks. Jackie Bundy had 12 kills, Sunny Mahe 11 and freshman Lauren Richards 10. Richards has now played in four matches this year after coming out of a planned redshirt season. Recruited as a setter, she has started on the outside in each of her four matches. She was a two-time State MVP as a hitter at Timpanogos High School in Orem, Utah. Senior Natalie Whittaker had a team-high 29 digs, averaging 4.14 digs per game. She had match highs both nights with 16 digs vs. San Diego State and 13 digs against UNLV.

THE LOW DOWN

BYU had its second lowest attack percentage of the season (.181) vs. CSU. The Cougars also recorded season lows of 40 kills, 23 digs and only two blocks while not serving an ace for the first time this year.

1,100 AND COUNTING

BYU coach Elaine Michaelis has coached 1,102th recorded (since 1969) matches. She has won 80 percent of those matches, with 879 wins. She is second in all-time Division I victories.

STREAKS CONTINUE

The Cougars are 9-0 at home this year and own a 20-match home winning streak dating back to last season. The last team to defeat BYU in the Smith Fieldhouse was nationally ranked Arizona on Sept. 15, 2000.

THREE AND OUT

BYU has achieved seven of its last eight wins in three-game sweeps. BYU is 9-1 overall in three-game matches this year. With its four-game win over San Diego State, BYU is now 2-0 when going four games. The Cougars are 1-1 in five-game contests this year.

POINTS

On the year, Nina Puikkonen leads the Cougars with 246.5 points (5.14 ppg), followed by Sunny Mahe with 225.0 (4.69 ppg) and Jackie Bundy with 201.5 (4.20 ppg).

DOUBLE-DIGIT KILLS

Puikkonen has recorded double-digit kills in all 14 matches this year while Sunny Mahe has reached double figures in 12 of 14 matches, totaling 11 kills in each match this week. Jackie Bundy has had more than 10 kills in eight matches this year.

FILLING OUTSIDE SPOTS

With four all-conference starters returning, BYU coach Elaine Michaelis has had to replace her two starting outside hitters from last season. Senior Natalie Whittaker has filled one spot, playing in all 48 games, while three different Cougars have seen action at the other spot. Freshman Lauren Richards came out of her redshirt season to start in the last four matches. Redshirt freshman Becky Warnick (22 games) and junior college transfer Allison Larson (15 games) have also seen time on the left side along with redshirt freshman Lindsey Steele (8 games). Sophomore defensive specialist Uila Crabbe has played back row in all 48 games this year.

ACES FOR BUNDY

Senior Jackie Bundy had a career-high four service aces while BYU equaled a season-best nine team aces against UNLV Saturday. BYU had 13 aces in the two matches (1.86 sapg). Bundy led BYU with five aces this week (0.71 sapg).

NATALIE LEADS LEAGUE

Senior Natalie Whittaker leads the Mountain West Conference in digs (3.21 dpg). She had a team-high 29 digs last week, averaging 4.14 digs per game. She had match highs both nights with 16 digs vs. San Diego State and 13 digs against UNLV.

NINA LAST WEEK

Nina Puikkonen averaged 5.14 kills, 3.00 digs and 2.00 blocks while leading BYU to a 2-0 week with wins over San Diego State and UNLV. Nina led BYU in kills (36) and blocks (14) and was second in digs (21) while hitting .238. She led BYU with 47 points in the two matches (6.71 points per game). She was one block shy of a triple-double in BYU's 3-1 win over San Diego State. She totaled a season-high 21 kills, with 12 digs and nine blocks. She also equaled her season best of two service aces and had one assist while hitting .240. Nina set a season high of 28.5 points for the match (7.13 points per game). Puikkonen had match highs of 15 kills and five blocks along with nine digs in BYU's 3-0 win over UNLV. She hit .235 while adding two assists and one service ace. She had 18.5 points (6.17 ppg).

NINA MOVING UP CAREER CHARTS

Nina Puikkonen is second on BYU's all-time block assist and total blocks lists. She surpassed former All-American and U.S. National Team player Amy Steele Gant in block assists vs. UC Santa Barbara and then overtook Gant in total blocks vs. Air Force. She needs three more block solos to pass Gant into fourth place in that category. Puikkonen has 719 career total blocks, including 621 block assists. Even though Puikkonen is by far BYU's all-time leader in blocking average (1.90 bpg), she needs another 170 blocks to overtake total blocks leader Dylann Duncan (1985-88) because volleyball teams played more matches each year during Duncan's career. Duncan is second in average (1.63 bpg). Even if BYU played all 35 possible matches this season, Duncan will have played in 29 more matches than Puikkonen during their respective four-year careers. Earlier this year, she moved past former Cougar All-American Gale Johnson into fifth place on BYU's all-time kills list with her third kill in BYU's win over Rhode Island.

NINA NEARS 1,500

With her 36 kills last week, Nina Puikkonen, the first-team AVCA All-American, now needs just 27 more kills to reach 1,500 career kills. She currently ranks fifth all-time at BYU in kills.

TRIPLE-DOUBLE

Senior middle blocker Jackie Bundy recorded 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. Nina almost had her third, with 21 kills, 12 digs and 9 blocks vs. San Diego State last week.

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 879-218-5 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 31-4 in MWC play in two years and now has an overall conference mark of 352-34. 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.

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