The BYU women's volleyball team is in unfamiliar territory. For the first time in ages - and the first-time ever in the WAC - the Cougars weren't picked by league coaches as the preseason team to beat.
Instead, San Diego State, with five of six starters returning from a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, has been dubbed the WAC favorite.It wasn't a huge drop off in expectations for the Cougars, however, as they received two first place votes and were picked to place second overall. Utah was picked sixth in the eight-team league.
Veteran Cougar coach Elaine Michaelis, even though her teams have won 18 conference titles and have dominated during the five years the WAC has sponsored women's sports, feels the preseason coaches' forecasts are on the mark.
"San Diego State has a great group of young people returning and have the upper hand in terms of experience," said Michaelis, whose teams are 60-4 (.938) in WAC matches. "There are a lot of teams in the conference that need to make adjustments just like we do. There is a lot of parity in the conference this year."
Three WAC teams are among the USA Today/AVCA preseason poll, with BYU at 13th, followed by New Mexico (22nd) and SDSU (24th).
The Cougars return four starters, but have a big hole to fill after setter Charlene Johnson graduated. Johnson, the all-time leader in assists in the WAC, was a four-year starter and an All-American.
"I'm sure a huge reason we didn't get picked to win the WAC is because we lost Charlene," said Johnson's replacement Laci Olmstead.
The Cougars return starters Gale Oborn Johnson, Angie Walker Tanner, Ann-Mari Lindqvist and Amy Steele. Debbie Diamond Freeland, a star basketball player for the Y., has switched sports now that her eligibility is up in hoops and will be a middle blocker for the Cougars this season. Also expected to contribute are freshmen Helen Hjorth and Korie Rodgers.
The Cougars will open the season at the Washington State Invitational Sept. 1 with their first home matches Sept. 7-8 when they host the Mizuno Invitational.
The Utes have been improving each year under sixth-year coach Beth Launiere. Utah has put together three straight winning seasons, but after having four starters graduate, they may be in for a rebuilding year.
Setter Katie Tagge (formerly Christensen) will be a key for the Utes as will sophomore Brenda Barton. Ex-Skyline High star Sara Shakula will also be counted on during her freshman season.
Utah's first home match is Sept. 12 against Georgia.
WAC coaches poll
1. San Diego State 48
2. Brigham Young 43
3. New Mexico 38
4. Fresno State 27
5. Colorado State 26
6. Utah 20
7. Wyoming 15
8. UTEP 7