By CHRISTINE JACKSON
In an intense match that came down to a fifth game decision, BYU’s women’s volleyball beat No. 10 Pepperdine on Saturday. Coming off of a strong win over Utah State on Friday and riding the electricity of a record-breaking crowd, the Cougars rallied to win the final game 15-9.
The Cougars built off of each other’s enthusiasm and overcame some initial setbacks to beat the undefeated Waves and improve their record to 6-1. The scores for all five games Saturday were 8-15, 15-10, 11-15, 15-8, and 15-9. Head coach Elaine Michaelis was glad win such a tough game.
“I don’t think we played our best offensively tonight, and it’s really nice to get a win over a good team,” she said. “We were struggling a little bit, especially between Al (setter Anna-Lena Smith) and Nina, to find precision kind of offense.
The team finally reached a .200 hitting percentage in the fourth game, after starting the first game with a .125 percentage against the solid Pepperdine defense. Michaelis attributed a relaxed attitude to the improvement after the first game.
“Once we got in the flow of the game things went a lot better,” she said.
The players also felt the lag in the first game.
“It was hard at first because it wasn’t our usual tempo, but we picked up to our normal play and everything just started flowing,” Bowers said.
In the Cougars’ previous two matches they had hit over .400. They won Friday in three games, 15-6, 15-4 and 15-9.
Mari Carpenter had a career high .846 hitting percentage with 11 kills. Puikkonen had 15 kills and Bower had 12. Collectively the team hit .438, and Michaelis said she was pleased with the attack and the setting.
“Mari didn’t make an error until half way through the second game,” she said. “She killed everything up until that point. Nina played extremely well, too. You have to give Al credit. She was setting them high and good. When a team hits that high of a percentage the setter gets the credit.”
Smith totaled 42 assists and five kills, as well as leading the defense with nine digs. Bower also played a tough game with 12 kills, a .417 hitting percentage and eight digs.
Tom Peterson, the head coach of Utah State and former assistant coach of the BYU men’s team, said their team had to re-focus for their conference after losing to BYU.
“We’re a young team. It’s a team that needs to get established,” Peterson said. “For us to match up against BYU we’d have to do several things. A great big man usually beats a great shorter man.”
Against Pepperdine, Nina Puikkonen, Mari Carpenter and Caroline Bower had 20, 16, and 15 kills respectively. Strong serving by Melissa Layton and some key defensive plays by Jackie Bundy were also important.
Anna-Lena Smith had 64 assists and seven kills, dumping the ball over the net in moments that Michaelis noted were crucial.
“She got real smart at the end of the game, and used it effectively, and did it when it counted,” she said.
Overall it was the effort of the entire team that brought them to the fifth game. Michaelis said that it was nice to see other players come through when Puikkonen and Smith were struggling with their rhythm.
“I was really pleased the fifth game that we served aggressively and smartly,” she said. “Mo (Melissa Layton) with her jump serve, Caroline found some holes and really used them … I feel that they were really smart in the fifth game.”
Smith said the team’s biggest strength was its diversity.
“You can stop one person, but we have five more coming right at you, so you can’t shut us down,” she said. “We always seem to pick up the slack if somebody is struggling. We help each other to be better.”
Caroline Bower also cited the team’s enthusiasm as a main factor in the win.
“I’ve never played on a team with more heart. That’s all that was is heart,” Bower said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re up against, we’re going to come out on top.”
Although 6-foot-4 hitter Jamie Hill was a threat, the Cougars were able to take her out of the game and she had just three kills.
Also important was the Cougars’ improved defense. They out-blocked the Waves in all five games finishing with a total of 17.5 team blocks over Pepperdine’s 12. Bower had 12 digs, and Smith, Bundy and Layton each had 11. Michaelis said that they played the best defense they had played all year.
“We were all over tips, we dug some of their good hits,” she said. “I thought Jackie played well on the back row, and I thought Melissa played some good defense. That’s good to see because those were areas we were working on all week.”
3,553 fans attended Saturday’s game, making it the largest crowd ever for a women’s volleyball game in the Smith Fieldhouse. That’s four more fans than the last record set in October 1995. The players felt the encouragement of their fans, especially when they were down.
“It was when we were on top, but it was when we were down too. The crowd is awesome,” Bowers said.
Michaelis agreed the crowd was a big boost.
“We were just really thrilled with the crowd,” she said. “It gives you a big lift. It’s fun to be home, and our crowd is great, we really appreciate them.”