By CAMIE HOWARD
The WAC women’s volleyball tournament started out with a bang and ended in a thud as BYU succumbed to seventh-ranked Hawaii Saturday afternoon at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Even though BYU was unsuccessful in its attempt to secure a third WAC championship in a row, its overall record of 26-3 was good enough to earn an at-large NCAA bid.
BYU will host the Central Region first and second rounds Friday and Saturday. Kansas State and Georgetown play in a first-round match Friday at 5 p.m. BYU will take on Coastal Carolina in the following match at 7 p.m. The winners of these two matches will then play Saturday. All the matches will be at the Smith Fieldhouse.
After defeating WAC opponents Wyoming and UNLV, the Cougars advanced quickly in the WAC tournament, setting their sights on the championship match with the Rainbows of Hawaii.
The third meeting of the season between BYU and Hawaii turned into an all out war as both teams battled to take possession of the WAC title. BYU lost in a tough five-game match, 12-15, 19-21, 15-13, 18-16 and 22-24.
“That was the best volleyball match I’ve ever seen,” BYU head coach Elaine Michaelis said. “I don’t really look at it as a loss for us.”
The Salt Lake Tribune quoted Hawaii head coach Dave Shoji as saying he didn’t think anybody would ever see another match like that one.
Both teams had strong numbers — Hawaii’s Heather Brown led with 28 kills, followed by BYU’s Nina Puikkonen with 25 kills and Mari Carpenter with 24 kills. BYU outside hitter Korie Rogers contributed 18 kills of her own and earned a spot on the all-tourney team along with teammate Puikkonen.
Leading up to Saturday’s big match was Wednesday’s match against Wyoming. A typical three-game sweep, the first game was the closest at 15-13. By the time the second and third games had ended, BYU had shut out Wyoming for the second time this season, winning 15-5 and 15-3.
Michaelis said the first game was close because BYU was trying to figure out the Cowgirls. Once adjustments were made, the team started working as a machine, she said.
Friday’s match between UNLV and BYU was televised by Fox Sports Rocky Mountain. The first and second games of the match were almost identical as the Cougars started out with large leads, only to see them disintegrate every time.
The Runnin’ Rebels had little success against BYU’s stonewall defense, however. The Cougars were able to pull away in the crucial moments of the match using tactics such as well-placed timeouts. BYU won in three straight games, 15-12, 15-10 and 15-6.
According to Michaelis, BYU was in a position to put UNLV away with its ability to serve and pass well.
“When we weren’t doing those two things very well, we let them back in the game,” Michaelis said. “But we have intelligent people on our team who know what to do and that’s why we won the match.”
Even without a WAC title, several BYU players earned post-season honors. Outside hitter Korie Rogers, middle blocker Nina Puikkonen and setter Anna-Lena Smith all earned a spot on the WAC Pacific Division First Team. Middle blocker Melissa Layton and outside hitter Mari Carpenter were placed on the WAC Pacific Division Second Team.
BYU leads all schools with five players receiving first- and second-team honors.