When she’s not winning WCC awards, Whitney Bower frequently goes ... wild turkey calling?
No. 16 seed Cougars (16-1) will meet either UCLA or Rider in an NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament second-round match on Thursday in Omaha, Nebraska
BYU setter Whitney Bower was recently named the West Coast Conference’s Player of the Year and Setter of the Year, a rare combination of awards that will look good on her resume. Setters don’t usually win player-of-the-year honors — big hitters do — but Bower is unusually versatile and gifted, WCC Coach of the Year Heather Olmstead of BYU said.
The double honor won’t be the most interesting notation on the sophomore’s profile on BYU’s women’s volleyball website, however. It might not even be her second-most noteworthy bio entry.
Turns out, the native of Nampa, Idaho, is a “frequent contestant in wild turkey calling contests,” according to her web page. She’s also one of seven sisters.
“Yeah, it is like we are champing at the bit right now, we are so excited. We want to play, like, tomorrow. … We are ready to play now.” — BYU sophomore setter Whitney Bower
Her mother, former BYU women’s volleyball star Caroline (Steuer) Bower, who shined for the Cougars in the late 1990s, confirmed Whitney’s unusual hobby to volleyballmag.com in 2019. Caroline’s other daughter on BYU’s team, libero Morgan Bower, “enjoys swan hunting on the Great Salt Lake and is a fly-fishing guide in southern Idaho.”
Also true, said mom, who was pregnant with Morgan — the oldest of the seven girls — when she was playing in the NCAA Tournament for the Cougars in 1999. Their father is Danny Bower, a shooting guard on BYU’s basketball team in 1997-99.
The Bower sisters — both sophomores, although Morgan is 17 months older (more on that later) — will play in their second NCAA Tournament on Thursday when No. 16 seed BYU faces the winner of Wednesday’s UCLA-Rider match in Omaha.
BYU’s match begins at 8:30 p.m. MDT and will be streamed on ESPN3. Having wrapped up the WCC championship March 31 with a 3-0 sweep of Santa Clara to improve to 16-1, BYU will go 15 days between matches and face a team that got a taste of the tourney the day before, but Whitney Bower isn’t concerned.
“Yeah, it is like we are champing at the bit right now, we are so excited,” she said last week. “We want to play, like, tomorrow. … We are ready to play now.”
Olmstead said the Cougars are used to dealing with twists and turns and long layoffs between matches in this pandemic-altered season, which was supposed to be played last fall but was pushed to this spring.
“We have a lot of gratitude for the NCAA, and for the administration at BYU that kept pushing for us to play and got us back here in June and July,” she said. “We got to reap the benefits of that, of being here and training. We are grateful to be playing, although it is a different time of year for us. It is new.”
Also new is the format and the location — all matches will be played in Omaha in a controlled environment to avoid COVID-19 issues.
Olmstead said the “cool thing” about the controlled environment is that it is similar to what BYU has grown accustomed to since beginning the season Jan. 26 in Portland. The Cougars flew to Omaha on Monday.
“We are used to being somewhat isolated on the road,” Olmstead said. “The difference (here) is each kid will have her own room, and that is going to be a little bit different for them.”
Certainly, the Bower sisters, who are roommates in Provo, can handle it.
Whitney was supposed to graduate from high school in 2020, but she wanted to enter BYU the same year as Morgan so she took 14 classes (eight in person, six online) to graduate from Nampa’s Skyview High in 2019.
She turned 18 two days before the end of the regular season in 2019 — the Cougars were bounced from the NCAA Tournament by Utah that year — and at 19 has to be the youngest Player of the Year/Setter of the Year in conference history.
Last season, Whitney Bower made the All-WCC first team as a freshman. Then she got better, Olmstead said.
“Whitney is the heart and soul of our team. She is the heartbeat, and you see that every time our team plays.” — BYU coach Heather Olmstead
“Whitney is the heart and soul of our team. She is the heartbeat, and you see that every time our team plays,” Olmstead said. “I am proud of her for distributing the ball and learning. We spend a lot of time together, and she has really taken control of the offense, and you can see that through our diverse ability to get different people the ball.”
Whitney Bower is the Cougars’ sixth player of the year since 2012 and third-straight, joining Roni Jones-Perry (2018) and McKenna Miller (2019). She’s the first Cougar to earn the Setter of the Year award, which the WCC instituted in 2019.
“Whoever gets this recognition, it just turns back to their hitters, honestly, because it really is a team award, and my hitters make me look good,” she said. “I couldn’t do this without my hitters. My hitters have been performing so well. We have such a balanced front row. I am just so grateful for my hitters.”
Outside hitter Taylor Ballard-Nixon, opposite hitter Kate Grimmer and middle blocker Kennedy Eschenberg also earned first-team all-conference honors. Freshman libero Madi Allen made the second team and freshman outside hitter Erin Livingston is on the honorable mention list.
Whitney Bower says this particular team is defined by its resiliency and competitive fire.
“We have all been through so much, and there have been so many doubts, and so much uncertainty, and I think we have just been tackling every situation with the best mindset and focusing on problem-solving and focusing on how we can be the best we can be, individuals and as a team,” she said. “Resilient is an awesome way to describe our team.”
More awards came for the Cougars on Tuesday, as Olmstead was named Pacific South Region Coach of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
The AVCA named Ballard-Nixon, Eschenberg, Grimmer and Whitney Bower to the All-Region team.