By T.J. Brinkerhoff
What a week the women’s volleyball team has had.
The Cougars swept the nation’s top two teams, Stanford and Long Beach State. On top of that, BYU garnered a No. 10 AVCA national ranking after finishing 5-0 on the week.
So when Utah State figured into the equation, it looked as just another pleasant trip to Logan.
Unfortunately, like the construction on I-15 between Provo and Logan, the Cougars ran straight into an unexpected detour on their way through the Smith Spectrum Tuesday night.
Losing in three straight sets 15-13, 15-8 and 15-6, the Cougars seemed to run out of gas before they could get themselves into gear.
“We were emotionally dead from last week,” BYU head coach Elaine Michaelis said in a press release. “We laid it all on the line last week and just didn’t have it tonight.”
Not that Michealis could have expected to need an extraordinary effort from her players, in light of the fact that BYU holds a commanding 44-9 lead in its series with the Aggies, dating back to 1970.
The Cougars had won their last 29 matches against the Aggies, having suffered their last defeat in 1979, for the Region 7 championship.
The first game remained competitive throughout with the Aggies finally edging out the Cougars 15-13. After that it was all Aggies rolling to convincing wins in the second and third sets.
“I think that if we would have got the first game from them we may have been all right,” Michaelis said. “When they got (the first game), though, they really started to go.”
Michaelis gave credit to the Aggies for showing up prepared and playing well, but recognized an apparent emotional let down from the team as a contributing factor in the loss.
The Cougars offensive performance was noticeably below par with the team turning in a dismal hitting percentage of .167, falling far short of their team average of .295.
“We didn’t hit the ball well, it was difficult for us to pass and serve, and we didn’t block or play defense, which is normally one of our strengths,” said assistant coach Karen Curtis Lamb.
“These things happen, it’s just unfortunate that we had to lose in order to learn.”
Strong performances by Melissa Layton and Nina Puikkonen were the only highlights of the night for the Cougars. Layton fired 12 kills and ended with a .375 hitting percentage, while Puikkonen, who is only the second BYU women’s volleyball player in school history to receive the AVCA/Sports National Player of the Week Award, finished the night with 45 assists and seven digs.
“I think that the team will dig deep this week and come out ready to play (against Arizona),” Lamb said.
BYU is now 0-2 in away matches this year, but will be returning home where they are currently 6-0 to face the No. 13 Arizona Wildcats at the Smith Fieldhouse, Friday at 7 p.m.