The BYU women's volleyball team, ranked No. 8 in the nation, ran into a fired-up, revenge-minded Arizona club in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday night.
As a result, the Cougars' season came to a premature end.The 16th-ranked Wildcats rebounded from losing the first game to post a 10-15, 15-5, 15-4, 15-10 victory in front of 1,162 fans in the Smith Fieldhouse.
The loss ends the collegiate career of Charlene Johnson, perhaps the best volleyball player in Cougar history. BYU finished the year with a 25-4 mark.
"Arizona played one of the best matches they've played all year," said Cougar coach Elaine Michaelis after her team's 18-match winning streak was broken. "They played great, and it was a hot night for them. Another night, it might have been different. I don't think we had our best match tonight."
The Wildcats admitted to revenge as the Cougars had ended Arizona's season last year in the NCAA Western Regional semifinals. BYU then went on to beat top-ranked UCLA to win the regional and a Final Four berth.
"There was a bit of a revenge factor after they beat us last year," Arizona setter Laura Bartsch said.
"We wanted to gain their respect," said Wildcat outside hitter Melissa Ferris. "I read the paper today and it sounded like they were taking us lightly. Maybe they weren't, but I felt they were. I wanted them to respect us and see what Arizona volleyball is all about."
Johnson, BYU's All-American setter, knew the Wildcats would be out to get the Cougars.
"They were definitely out for revenge," said Johnson, the WAC player of the year this season. "Last year when we played them, they thought they'd have an easy one over us. After we pulled the upset over them, I know they came in here saying `we're not going to let BYU knock us out again.' " Early in the match, it looked like the Cougars would knock the Wildcats out again. BYU never trailed in the first game, as freshman outside hitter Angie Walker led the Cougars to a 15-10 first-game win.
Arizona regrouped and made a conscious effort to slow the game down the rest of the way.
"The first game the pace was too fast for us," Arizona coach David Rubio said. "I sat them down and said `Let's slow this down a ton. Whether it's wiping up the floor or tying a shoe, let's slow it down and make them play at our tempo.' " The slowed-down Wildcats breezed to wins in the second and third games. BYU jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the fourth game, but behind the hitting of Ferris and Barbara Bell and the setting of Bartsch, the Wildcats came back to win the fourth game and the match. Bell had 17 kills, and Ferris finished 16 with six blocks. Ferris had 52 assists.
"It was a great effort by everyone on our team. That was one of the best matches I have ever been involved with at Arizona," Rubio said. "It, obviously, came at a timely point of the season."
Johnson had 43 assists while Walker had a game-high 18 kills. As a team the Cougars hit just .058, while Arizona hit .195.
Johnson has been offered a spot on the Utah Predators professional volleyball team. But she would have to give up her BYU scholarship if she joins the Predators this year, so her volleyball future is up in the air at this point.