Charlene Johnson doesn't know how she keeps up with everything she has going. Being a full-time mother, a full-time student and a full-time volleyball star leaves precious little time for anything else.
Yet she wouldn't trade any of it."It's hard keeping it up, but it's all worth it," said Johnson, BYU's All-American setter. "Especially my son (17-month old Toma). He's not a baby anymore - he's gotten into the terrible twos stage already - but he's great and I try to spend as much time as I can with him."
Little Toma is oblivious to the fact his mother is one of the best collegiate volleyball players anywhere and the main reason many are predicting the Cougars will make a return visit to the NCAA Final Four.
"(Johnson) is the premier setter in the country," veteran BYU coach Elaine Michaelis said. "It's in recognition of Char that we're getting the (national) attention we've been getting."
Last season Johnson helped the Cougars to a 29-3 record, an upset victory over top-ranked UCLA in the Western Regionals and a berth in the national semifinals. But when BYU opens the 1994 season Thursday at the Colorado Invitational in Boulder, the Cougars will be without four starters from last year's team - including All-American middle blocker Michele Fellows.
Still, thanks mostly to Johnson's return, the Cougars are expected to be the best in the WAC and among the top teams nationally. In the AVCA-Tachikara coaches poll the Cougars are ranked sixth nationally, while Volleyball Magazine has BYU fourth and Volleyball Monthly lists them 11th.
Despite the loss of four of the top players from last year's team, the Cougars should have plenty of firepower. Sophomore outside hitter Gale Oborn came on strong last year and had an outstanding run through the NCAA playoffs. Virpi Ollila, a senior outside hitter from Finland, started much of last season until injuries slowed her.
Perhaps the biggest positive surprise at the outside hitting position has come from Cynthia Reeves, a senior walk-on from Provo. Reeves, who played at BYU-Hawaii, recently returned from an LDS mission to Russia. After just two weeks with her BYU teammates, Reeves was selected as a captain. Redshirt freshmen Danka Bartonova and Angie Walker and true freshman Helen Hjorth, a star at Spanish Fork High, will add depth at the outside hitter spot.
Marianne Clark, a 6-0 senior, has moved from the outside to a middle blocker position. Junior Ann-Mari Lindqvist and highly-recruited freshmen Amy Steele and Korie Rogers are also capable in the middle.
Senior Leslie Anderson Manwaring is the team's top defensive specialist.
BYU hasn't lost a WAC game in two seasons is again expected to be atop the league standings.
New Mexico, San Diego State and Utah are expected to be the other contenders in the WAC. BYU's non-league schedule includes No. 14 Colorado, No. 15 Southern Cal, and No. 8 Texas.
The trip to Austin to play Texas comes after the WAC season is complete in late November. The Cougs hope to take another trip to Austin three weeks later, as Texas is hosting the NCAA Final Four, Dec. 15-17.
WAC coaches poll
1. BYU (7) 49
2. New Mexico (1) 43
3. San Diego State 35
4. Utah 27
5. Colorado State 26
6. Fresno State 21
7. Wyoming 16
8. UTEP 7