By Brian Hintze
The BYU women’s volleyball team split their two home matches Friday and Saturday.
The Cougars struggled against No. 13 Arizona with losses 12-15, 9-15, 15-8 and 15-5 but came back with a decisive victory over Temple on Saturday 15-2, 15-5 and 15-2.
Quick offense and the size of the Wildcats were too much for BYU to handle Friday night.
“Their outside hitters are awfully big, and we couldn’t form a block very well tonight,” said coach Elaine Michaelis.
The Wildcats had four players who hit over .360 against the Cougars.
Arizona’s quick passing made it tough for BYU’s front line to form a solid block.
“I think that we kind of killed ourselves tonight. We just made too many mistakes,” Melissa Layton said.
Although BYU went down in four games, several individuals played well.
Natalie Whittaker came off the bench to provide a steady offensive presence with a .333 attack percentage and good back line defense with nine digs.
Nina Puikkonen also played well with 15 kills and five block assists.
“We know what we each individually need to improve on,” said Nina Puikkonen after the loss Friday night.
And that is exactly what they did the next day against Temple.
BYU had five players who hit above .360 and recorded 29 block assists.
The BYU took the Owls out of the match from the first game when Melissa Layton and Puikkonen hit at a .750 attack percentage.
Layton ended the game leading her team with nine kills, .650 attack percentage, and eight digs.
“I think that the team came out relaxed and rested. They’re feeling like themselves again,” Michaelis said.
“Temple is a good team. They took Long Beach, Pepperdine, and Utah to four games,” Michaelis said.
BYU will now look to the start of conference play this weekend against UNLV on Friday and San Diego State on Saturday.
“We’re coming up on the start of conference. That is what really counts,” Michaelis said.
The young Cougars have prepared well in their non-conference schedule facing five top 25 teams in their first 10 games.
Their record against those teams is 4-1 with two victories against No. 1 and 2 in the nation.
A big question at the beginning of the year for many fans was their youth at the setter position.
Freshman Karina Puikkonen has put those fears to rest.
She has put up 472 assists over her first 10 matches averaging a little over 13 assists a game.
“I’m not getting nervous in the offense and that is good. I’m really confident in my hitters that they will put the ball away,” she said.
Conference play leaves little room for mistakes.
The 1999 championship was decided by a loss to a UNLV team who was at the bottom of the conference.
“We’re not going to overlook anyone. We want to be ready,” Michaelis said.