By Sam Araki
In post-holiday play at the Long Beach Thanksgiving Invitational, the BYU women”s volleyball team got off to a running start as it defeated Cal Poly 28-30, 30-20, 25-30, 30-25, 15-7 Friday, Nov. 23, but lost to No. 1 Long Beach State 22-30, 30-25, 24-30, 28-30 Saturday.
After a disappointing regular season, BYU had an opportunity to shake up the national women”s volleyball scene if it were to defeat LBSU. As has been the case in numerous games this year, the Cougars fought hard, but came up short.
“We played very tough, but we made too many errors,” said Elaine Michaelis, BYU women”s volleyball coach. “We out-blocked them and both teams played some great defense, but their experience showed on the court.”
In a competitive match, BYU closed out the second game against LBSU with a dominating 11-4 run. The Cougars” win in game two ended the 49ers” 41-game winning streak, the seventh-longest single season streak in NCAA history.
BYU had a chance to extend the match to a fifth game, but hit the ball out of bounds, with LBSU leading 29-28, to lose the match.
BYU freshman outside hitter Lauren Richards had a big night, leading the Cougars with a career-high 20 kills and a 0.326 attack percentage.
LBSU was led by its national player of the year canidate, senior middle blocker Cheryl Weaver, who had 22 kills, seven digs and six blocks with an outstanding 0.531 attack percentage.
Coming off a career night, BYU senior All-American middle blocker Nina Puikkonen had 11 kills, but she struggled with 12 hitting errors in compiling an 0.027 attack percentage.
The win boosts the 49ers” perfect record to 28-0, and LBSU continues to stand as the only unbeaten team in Division I women”s volleyball.
In earlier action Friday, the Cougars defeated a predictably scrappy Cal Poly team. What the Mustangs lacked in talent, they more than made up for in effort.
As far as numbers go, BYU had a distinct advantage over Cal Poly. The Cougars had 102 digs to the Mustangs” 70, and had 87 kills compared to 60 Mustang kills.
Puikkonen was stellar against Cal Poly in willing her team to the win.
She had her fourth career triple-double, compiling career highs with 32 kills and 20 digs, and a season-high 11 blocks with a 0.518 attack percentage.
“Nina put us on her shoulders and carried us,” Michaelis said. “She was phenomenal all the way around.”
BYU right side hitter Sunny Mahe scored a double-double with 16 kills and 19 digs and attained an 0.267 attack percentage.
“We played good defense,” Michaelis said. “Cal Poly is a good scrappy team. Jackie (Bundy) was sick so she wasn”t able to do what she normally does, but she played well on the back row. Sunny played a solid match.”
With the close of their regular season, the Cougars stand at 20-8. Under the direction of Michaelis, BYU has earned its 28th consecutive winning season.
Adding to her many achievements, Puikkonen was recognized for her accomplishments off the court.
A zoology major carrying a 3.44 grade point average, Puikkonen was recently selected to the Verizon Academic District VIII Women”s Volleyball Second Team. This is the second time she has been selected to the team, after being selected to the third team last year.
Currently ranked 20th nationally – their lowest rnaking of the season – the Cougars will seek an extension for their season.
The Cougars hope to gain an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, which starts this weekend. BYU has appeared in 19 of the past 20 NCAA tournaments, including the past 11 years in a row.
The tournament bracket will be announced Monday, Nov 26.