(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO, Utah—Compiling a 28-4 record for its best record since 1998, the No. 12 BYU women’s volleyball team claimed its first conference championship since 2000 and made it to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007 during the 2012 season.
The 2012 season was Shawn Olmstead’s second as head coach of the Cougars. Olmstead, Pacific Region and WCC Coach of the Year, has a 49-13 overall record as BYU’s head coach.
Along with the region semifinal finish, the Cougars picked up four All-America honors with Jennifer Hamson named a First-Team All-American. Freshman Alexa Gray and seniors Heather Hannemann and Nicole Warner garnered All-America Honorable Mention accolades.
The Cougars launched their season with a 15-0 winning streak, which included a streak of eight straight sweeps, four tournament crowns and wins against three top-25 teams. The victories put BYU back in the top 25, a place the team hadn’t held since 2007.
BYU also clinched the Deseret First Duel trophy, the team’s second straight victory in the duel, to give BYU its first three points in the overall duel.
The Cougars went 3-0 to start conference play, not losing a match until Sept. 29, when they fell to Saint Mary’s 3-1 on the road. BYU only lost one match per month, not losing again until October when the team lost a 3-2 nail-biter to Santa Clara on the 20th.
BYU rebounded with back-to-back wins on the road before facing San Diego at the Smith Fieldhouse Oct. 31. BYU, ranked No. 17 at the time, and San Diego, ranked No. 18 at the time, were tied for first place in the league. The Halloween-night match, BYU’s first match televised on an ESPN network since 2007, ended in a 3-1 Cougar victory to push the Toreros out of the first-place tie.
On Nov. 17, BYU secured its share of the WCC title with a 3-1 victory against Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif. BYU then continued on to San Diego to face the Toreros once more in the final league match and a battle for ownership of the conference crown. San Diego pulled away with the 3-2 victory, resulting in a tie for first place in final conference standings.
The Cougars won the tiebreaker to get the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament, having won more sets in the series with San Diego this season. (Both teams lost to Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara and each other in conference play.) BYU was named the 12 seed for the tournament, allowing the Cougars to host the first and second rounds of the tournament.
BYU swept New Mexico State in the first round and Oklahoma in the second round, then traveled to Omaha, Neb., for the round of 16 matchup against 5-seed Oregon. Oregon won the match 3-1.
Despite the loss, BYU finished the season ranked No. 12, the Cougars’ highest final ranking since 2007.
In addition to her All-America honor, junior opposite hitter Hamson took home All-Pacific Region, WCC Player of the Year, WCC First Team, two WCC Player of the Month and three WCC Player of the Week honors. She was named to the Omaha Regional All-Tournament team, as well as MVP for the Rice Invitational, Shocker Volleyball Classic and BYU Nike Invitational at the beginning of the season.
BYU had two other individual WCC awards, with Gray collecting WCC Freshman of the Year and Warner collecting Co-WCC Defensive Player of the Year in addition to their All-WCC First Team honors. Hannemann was named All-WCC Honorable Mention and Gray and Kimberly Dahl were named to the WCC All-Freshman Team.
Hamson, Warner and sophomore Tia Withers were also named to the Academic All-WCC Team.
Hamson led the team with 4.09 kills per set, hitting .362. The 6-foot-7 opposite hitter is No. 11 in BYU history for career kills after joining BYU’s 1,000-kills club in November. She also ended the season No. 17 in the NCAA for points per set with 5.03.
Looking ahead to the 2012 season, the Cougars lose two seniors from their starting lineup in setter Hannemann and middle blocker Warner. Hannemann ended the season No. 31 in the NCAA for assists per set with 11.17. She finishes her career No. 8 in BYU history for career assists.
After leading the nation in blocking for more than a month, Warner ended the season No. 2 in blocks per set with 1.80. Warner is No. 3 in BYU history for career block assists and No. 4 for total blocks with 627 and 657, respectively.
The team will return six juniors, two of them starters; three sophomores, including libero Withers; and six freshman, including starting outside hitter Gray.