By Sam Araki
The roller-coaster regular season for the No.16 BYU women”s volleyball team comes to an end this weekend, as it travels to UNLV on Friday, Nov. 9, and San Diego State on Saturday, Nov. 10, to close out its Mountain West Conference schedule. Both matches start at 7 p.m. PST.
The Cougars have become road warriors the past several weeks, as they have played five of their last seven matches away from the Smith Fieldhouse. BYU has won four of its last five road matches, and the Cougars are looking to sweep their road trip.
“We”ve got to make sure we take care of business in these two matches,” said Elaine Michaelis, BYU women”s volleyball coach. “We”re trying to be better and more consistent, to do things that will make us win.”
UNLV (8-11, 5-7 in the MWC) hosts BYU Friday, Nov. 9, in its second meeting this season. In an Oct. 13 match, BYU senior All-American Nina Puikkonen led the Cougars with 15 kills, as they swept the Rebels in Provo.
The Rebels are a young team led by sophomore outside hitter Leiana Oswald, who heads the team with 2.89 kills per game, and she is complemented by junior middle blocker Blair Wilkes, who generates 2.87 kills per game.
The UNLV blocking game is led by the formidable presence of freshman middle blocker Sheila Ocasio-Clemente. Clemente stands at 6”5″, and she has led the nation in blocking for eight straight weeks, while averaging 2.09 blocks per game.
The Cougars are 9-0 all-time in play versus the Rebels, and they are 3-0 overall in Las Vegas.
SDSU (14-9, 8-4 fourth) welcomes BYU to Peterson Gym on Saturday, Nov. 10.
The Aztecs are a respected up-and-coming opponent of the Cougars, and their young talent will serve them well in the future, Michaelis said.
In their previous meeting, Oct. 12 in Provo, the Aztecs employed an aggressive service game that disrupted the Cougars” passing and attacking game. SDSU eventually bowed to BYU in four games however, as four Cougars had double-digit kills.
Sophomore outside hitter Zlatina Anguelova leads the Aztecs into their match with the Cougars, and she averages 3.66 kills and 1.92 digs, with a 0.264 attack percentage.
BYU is 24-13 against SDSU all-time, and the Cougars hold a 9-6 advantage in San Diego, but BYU has won 10 straight matches in the series.
Michaelis is succinct in her outlook for the two-match road trip.
“We have to win these ballgames, no question,” she said.
The Cougars have been buoyed lately by the solid all-around game of sophomore setter Karina Puikkonen. After a career-high 67 assists against Weber State on Oct. 30, Puikkonen averaged 13.50 assists and two kills per game with a 0.586 attack percentage last week.
The Cougars enter this weekend”s play with a 17-5 record with a 9-3 conference mark for third in the conference.
Looking past this weekend, BYU will host the MWC Volleyball Championship Nov. 13-15 at the Smith Fieldhouse.
Barring a major miracle, the Cougars will be the third seed in the MWC tournament, which would put No. 14 Utah and No. 8 Colorado State standing in BYU”s path to the championship.
“I”m really looking forward to it, and I think we”re going to play well,” said Jackie Bundy, a BYU senior middle blocker. “We”ve stepped up a lot in practice.”
“Our coaches have really cracked down on being a lot harder on us, and so we”ve become a lot stronger, and we”re playing better,” Bundy said.