Starting off the season with its best start since 2005, the BYU women’s volleyball team played 18 matches before facing defeat.
BYU currently holds a West Coast Conference record of 9-2 and stands No. 18 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll with an overall record of 21-2.
BYU’s overall record is the best in the WCC, with San Diego next in line at 17-4.
Middle blocker Nicole Warner said the Cougars are doing phenomenally and have united together as a team, allowing them to play great all the time.
“I can’t even describe how proud I am of this team,” Warner said. “We really are accomplishing all of these goals that we’ve wanted to for so long. And if we keep it up the way we’re going, we can go so far and just become amazing. Our coaches are always telling us how good we are. Now we’re starting to believe in that.”
In the preseason, the Cougars were invited to four invitational tournaments and took all four titles. They won the Rice, BYU Nike and George Washington Invitationals in 3-0 sweeps and took the Wichita State Invitational title, dropping only four sets.
Warner said the invitational victories provided a large confidence boost for the Cougars and were crucial in helping them prepare for conference matches.
“The fact that we played some really heavy competition like Wichita State, Tennessee and Colorado State and beat them, winning that tournament was huge,” Warner said. “We’re like, ‘Look at what we can do. Look how successful we can be.'”
The invitationals also allowed the Cougars to receive individual player recognition.
Opposite hitter Jennifer Hamson was named tournament MVP following the Rice, Wichita State and BYU Invitationals and was given all-tournament honors at the George Washington Invitational, along with junior middle blocker Kathryn LeCheminant. Freshman middle blocker Alexa Gray was named tournament MVP at the George Washington Invitational and given all-tournament honors along with senior setter Heather Hannemann at the Rice and BYU Invitationals.
At the Wichita State Invitational, libero Ciara Parker, Warner and Hamson were named to the all-tournament team.
As a team, BYU has climbed in rankings since the start of the season. Originally not ranked, the Cougars reached their highest ranking of No. 11 in the AVCA poll on Sept. 24 after four tournament wins and two conference wins. The Cougars now stand No. 18 overall. San Diego is the only team in the WCC ranked higher than BYU at No. 16 overall.
Throughout the season, multiple players have received top rankings in NCAA stats for individual play.
On Sept. 24, Hamson was ranked No. 17 for points per set with 5.04, and Hannemann was ranked No. 7 for assists per set with 11.91. LeCheminant ranked No. 8 for kills per set with 14.85.
On Oct. 15 the Cougars were ranked No. 1 for hitting percentage with .319 and No. 13 in blocks per set with 2.92.
On Oct. 8 Warner was ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division I volleyball for blocks per set with 1.73. Head Coach Shawn Olmstead said he’s excited about how well the Cougars have done. Olmstead said the rankings show how hard the team is working.
“You can’t get kills without Heather Hannemann, and you can’t get blocks without some tough serves, so I look at individual awards as team awards,” Olmstead said. “It’s the way awards are. Somebody’s got to receive them, and it’s a credit to your program when you’re receiving them.”
Hard practices and great teamwork are contributing to the team’s successful season. Freshman Samantha Staker said the Cougars are a strong, talented team.
“Day in and day out at every practice we have a really good work ethic,” Staker said. “We have some upper-classmen that show some really good skills, and that’s really helpful. We have a lot of talent, and if we can just define that talent then we’ll be really good.”
BYU’s strategy this year is to move through its season one match at a time. Warner said success comes from focusing on the next opponent and compartmentalizing matches.
“At the beginning of the season it was, ‘Win this tournament, come out on top,’ but now it’s serious,” Warner said. “Each week it’s just beat the next opponent. Then it’s conference — conference is what we want.”
The Cougars desperately want to win the WCC and prove they are the better team. They also have their sights on the NCAA tournament.
“We were just barely kept out of the NCAA tournament last year, and that was so bittersweet,” Warner said. “We did so well, but we didn’t get quite as far as we wanted to.”
The Cougars have six more matches in the WCC before the tournament starts. Four are home matches, with the next one on Halloween at 8 p.m. The two away matches will be on Nov. 15 and Nov. 17 in California. The Cougars’ schedule, along with player statistics and past match results, can be found at byucougars.com.