By Sam Araki
The BYU women”s volleyball team had it all together, destroying Wyoming 30-14, 30-16, 30-23 opening its Mountain West Conference Tournament play Thursday, Nov. 15.
The BYU win sets up a semi-final showdown with in-state rival Utah on Friday, Nov. 16, in the Smith Fieldhouse at 7 p.m.
A team of ideal talent, but saddled with inconsistency, the Cougars came out against the Cowgirls, determined to start peaking at the most opportune time of the season.
“I was really pleased with how our team played,” said Elaine Michaelis, BYU women”s volleyball coach. “We played with excellent tempo that put us in a position to execute the way we”re able to.”
The first game featured the Cougars asserting their aggressiveness on a seemingly frightened Cowgirls team. The shaky Wyoming squad had 11 errors as it compiled a wholly unimpressive -0.067 attack percentage.
In the second game, the Cougars continued their consistent play hustling against the Cowgirls. Despite a lingering cold, BYU senior middle blocker Jackie Bundy was an overbearing presence with seven kills, as she helped the Cougars dominate the front line.
In a frightening thought for future BYU opponents, the Cougars sustained their outstanding play through the end of the match. The third game featured a courtside substitution turnstile, as Michaelis employed her full bench.
“Everyone played well,” Michaelis said.
Perhaps epitomizing how the team has quickly come together after a turbulent regular season, the Cougar bench cheered louder than the season-low 503 spectators at the Smith Fieldhouse.
In the third game, BYU sophomore middle blocker Carrie Bowers landed on her back after being stuffed, but the Cougars were awarded a point because of a Cowgirl net violation.
Suffice it to say that the BYU bench displayed their cheery emotion.
The concentration of the team and overall trust of the team members is coming together, Bundy said.
“After the UNLV loss, we changed our attitude and changed our focus,” Bundy said.
“We”re looking forward to the best part of the season now,” said Nina Puikkonen, BYU senior All-American middle blocker.
Michaelis is an unabashed proponent of team play. The bulk of the Cougars” success this year has come when its stars, Puikkonen, Bundy and junior right side hitter Sunny Mahe, are shouldering the offensive and defensive loads.
The numbers don”t lie and Thursday was no exception.
Puikkonen, Bundy and Mahe had 53 of the Cougars” 81 attack attempts.
The Cougars had a dominating 17 blocks as a team. Puikkonen led the way offensively, with 14 kills and a season-high 0.611 attack percentage.
In earlier play, No. 1 seed Colorado State swept No. 8 seed Air Force 30-13, 30-24, 30-15 to kick off the tournament. CSU senior middle blocker Angela Knopf, named MWC player of the year on Wednesday, Nov. 14, led the Ram attack with 16 kills, and a MWC tournament record 0.762 attack percentage.
The most competitive match of the day had No. 5 seed UNLV win a five-game match over No. 4 seed San Diego State. The Rebels continue their late season surge, and will play top seed CSU at 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16, for a chance to advance to the finals.
In the third match of the day, No. 2 seed Utah romped over No. 7 seed New Mexico 30-15, 30-16, 30-19, to set up a grudge match with the hungry Cougars.
The Cougars will face the Utes in the MWC tournament semi-finals for the second consecutive year. The two teams have split their meetings this year, and tonight”s match will prove Utah volleyball supremacy.
In order for BYU to win, it needs to continue to pass the ball well, in order to set up the Cougar attack, said Michaelis.
“They”re playing very well and they”re a very good team, and we”re playing well and we”re a very good team,” she said. “It should be a very competitive match.”