By Sam Araki
BYU All-American senior middle blocker Nina Puikkonen and the No. 14 BYU (9-1, 3-0) women”s volleyball team continued its early season dominance, as it handily defeated two conference opponents, and extended its winning streak to eight games.
In a weekend romp, BYU defeated the Air Force Falcons (2-8, 0-3) 30-13, 30-20, 30-15 on Saturday night, September 29, and downed the New Mexico Lobos (1-10, 0-4) 30-18, 30-21, 30-15 on Friday night, September 28.
BYU All-American senior middle blocker Nina Puikkonen passed Amy Steele Gant to become second all-time in blocks at BYU in leading the Cougars to the pair of wins.
Gant was a record-setting senior as Puikkonen came to BYU. Puikkonen broke Gant”s blocks record (694) in the second game against Air Force, and now has 697 career blocks.
“I looked up to Amy as a red-shirt freshman, and even before I came to BYU,” said Puikkonen. “At that time, I would have never imagined that this would be possible, so it”s a real honor.”
“We were able to do some things that we wanted to work on,” said BYU women”s volleyball coach Elaine Michaelis. “I think we played up to our level.”
Air Force has now lost 21 consecutive conference games and provided good hitting practice for BYU, as the Cougars had a .404 attack percentage. On defense, the Cougars combined with the net to hold the Falcons to an anemic .058 attack percentage.
BYU junior outside hitter Sunny Mahe was lethal, as she peppered Air Force with 16 kills at a .750 attack percentage, and had six digs, two blocks and a service ace.
“Karina (Puikkonen) really put the sets where they needed to be,” Mahe said.
Everyone on the Cougars roster saw playing time, and Michaelis specifically highlighted the team”s overall good play.
“Everybody played and everybody played well,” said Michaelis. “Tonight was a good all-around team effort.”
The Cougars” aggression was an extension of Friday night”s game, when BYU sent New Mexico packing with an offensive barrage. BYU had 54 kills as a team with a .457 attack percentage.
BYU was led Friday night by senior middle blocker Jackie Bundy who led the team with 15 kills, combined with six blocks, five digs, and two service aces.
The Cougars will have their biggest match of the year when they travel to Fort Collins next Saturday to take on conference nemesis No. 10 Colorado State.
BYU will hone their focus in practice this week, and concentrate on stuffing the Colorado State attack.
“We need to concentrate on blocking Courtney Cox on the right side, and stop Angela Knopf,” said Michaelis.
The Cougars, who also extended their home winning streak to 17 matches, have won 15 games in a row, spanning five matches.
BYU hits the road for two games next weekend, as it plays Wyoming on Friday, and No. 10 Colorado State on Saturday. The Cougars will next play at home on Oct. 12 against San Diego State.