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MWC volleyball opener pits Cougar women against Utes

SHARE MWC volleyball opener pits Cougar women against Utes

PROVO — Following an unexpected layoff in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States last week, the BYU women's volleyball team returns to action by facing in-state rival Utah tonight at 7 p.m. at the Smith Fieldhouse.

The match will be broadcast live on Ch. 11.

As if the rivalry isn't enough, the Cougars (No. 14) and Utes (No. 21) are nationally ranked, and the match marks the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams.

"It's a great way to open the conference season, especially to be at home," said BYU junior outside hitter Sunny Tonga Mahe. "It's always big when we play Utah."

BYU and Utah are very similar teams, said Cougar coach Elaine Michaelis.

"We both have strengths in the middle and on the right side and have some new people on the outsides," she said. "We are fortunate to have an experienced setter in Karina (Puikkonen). They have two freshman setters, but their hitters are experienced and very good. This should be an outstanding match between two nationally ranked teams."

The Cougars are off to a 5-1 start, with their lone defeat to No. 25 Texas. The Utes are 4-2, with a loss to No. 3 Arizona.

"We need to play at a high level," Michaelis said. "The match should be a good measuring stick for us."

The Cougars were set to fly to Honolulu last Tuesday, the day of the terrorist attacks, for matches against Loyola Marymount and No. 12 Hawaii. Those matches were canceled. The Utes were supposed to play in the Illinois Challenge last week and those matches were also canceled. Neither team has played since Sept. 8.

Michaelis gave her team last weekend off. "By Monday, they were ready to come back," she said. "It was a good break for us. It helped us to focus on normal life. The crisis is there as a reminder that life is not the same."

The BYU-Utah match will be the first athletic event held on campus since the national tragedy. School officials plan to hold a brief ceremony prior to the match to remember the victims of the attacks.

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com