Editor’s note: Second in a series of articles examining how each BYU program will stack up against its new conference foes. Today’s program: women’s volleyball.

From the days of Hall of Famer Elaine Michaelis to Shawn Olmstead leading a storybook run to the 2014 NCAA title match to current head coach Heather Olmstead’s streak of national rankings and NCAA tourney appearances, it’s no exaggeration to say that BYU is one of the blue bloods of NCAA women’s volleyball, no pun intended.

A little-known fact: The Cougars are third on the all-time NCAA wins list with 1,376, just four back from overtaking UCLA for second place (Nebraska is first at 1,407). Since 2012, BYU has finished second or first in conference play, exceeded a .750 winning percentage, played in the NCAA Tournament (including advancing to the Sweet 16 or further nine times) and continuously maintained a national ranking of 18 or higher every single season.

Entering her ninth year in 2023, Heather Olmstead has guided BYU to a 213-29 record; her .880 career win percentage is the highest of any coach in NCAA Division I history — ever.

The Cougars didn’t finish WCC play last year like they wanted, but still took second behind a San Diego team that went to the Final Four, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Six of their seven losses come to teams ranked in the top 10.

This year, BYU will be led by setter Whitney Bower. Bower has been the Cougars’ starting setter ever since graduating high school a year early and joining the team in 2019 as a 17-year-old freshman. The daughter of a pair of former BYU student-athletes, Bower is an All-American, WCC Player of the Year and four-time All-WCC First Team honoree. Injury caused her to miss a handful of matches last season, but the fiery super senior is back and will be a key leader for the Cougars.

Senior outside hitter Erin Livingston was an All-America honorable mention last season, ranking No. 15 nationally with 4.47 kills per set to lead the BYU attack. She could be one of the top offensive players in the country. Other seniors include Whitney Llarenas, an All-WCC First Team middle blocker, and defensive specialist Aria McComber.

The difference between a good season and an excellent Big 12 debut will depend on how many underclassmen will step in for the Cougars. Sophomore middle blocker Kate Prior, sophomore outside hitter Eden Bower and junior outside hitters Elyse Stowell and Alyssa Montoya Erickson each saw significant time last year. The Cougars also brought in the ninth-ranked signing class in the country according to PrepVolleyball.com, including high school All-American outside hitter Claire Little and three top-100 recruits: setter Silina Damuni (daughter of BYU director of football relations Jack Damuni); middle blocker Mia Lee; and libero Brielle Miller.

Big 12 women’s volleyball

The Big 12 ended the regular season with the highest RPI of any league last year (impressive, as flawed as the RPI is). Current and future Big 12 teams went 8-0 in the opening round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament; three of those teams played in the Sweet 16 and five teams finished in the final top-25 poll, with two more receiving votes.

The Big 12 schedule will be unique — each team plays six two-game series matches and six single matches. Everyone will play at least one match against everyone else. Oklahoma State is the only Big 12 member to not sponsor women’s volleyball.

How will BYU fare?

Prior to its conference slate, BYU plays 12 nonconference matches and will be favored in all but one of them — a season-opening, neutral-site matchup against Pitt in Montana, of all places. The Panthers have been to the Final Four both of the last two seasons and defeated the Cougars both in the regular season and in the NCAA Tournament last year. A match against Utah is the highlight of just four nonconference home contests.

As for Big 12 play, Texas will likely be the unanimous favorite yet again. But it’s certainly no stretch to say BYU could test the Longhorns and ultimately finish somewhere in the conference’s top tier along with Houston and Baylor.

With the somewhat random conference schedule playing six two-game series matches and six single matches (three at home and three away each type), scheduling does play a factor in how each Big 12 team’s season plays out. The Cougars, for example, only have to play Houston and Baylor once and get them both at home, but for better or worse they are the first two conference matches on BYU’s slate. BYU also plays Kansas once at home and has one match each at Oklahoma, West Virginia and TCU.

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The Cougars’ toughest draw is getting two matches at Texas. They also play two at Kansas State and make the long trek to play two at UCF. BYU’s two-game series matches at home are Texas Tech, Iowa State and Cincinnati.

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If BYU can come out strong and win those first two big home matches, they Cougars will be in a good spot early. Take a match at Texas and the Cougars will really be rolling. Let’s say they win two of those first four. I also see them winning all their road matches except a split of the Kansas State series. Since 2012, BYU has gone an unreal 140-8 (.946) at home in the Smith Fieldhouse and ranked seventh in the nation last year in average home attendance. Maybe one match slips away from the Cougars, but I’ll bet they take the rest of their home contests.

In all, I predict BYU to go 11-1 in nonconference and 15-3 in the Big 12 to claim second place and take a 26-4 overall record into their 12th consecutive NCAA Tournament.

Here’s a look at the Cougars’ conference competition and how BYU might fare this upcoming season listed in my predicted order of finish:

 Texas

  • Overview: There is one team in the Big 12 with a storied program history that can go toe-to-toe with the Cougars — and Texas has done just that in multiple big-time matches with BYU the last few years. Last fall, the Longhorns won the NCAA title, their fourth in program history. Texas has finished ranked eighth or higher in each of the last 17 seasons and has been to the Final Four in 10 of the last 15 seasons. Texas has won six consecutive Big 12 titles and 14 of the last 16. Despite losing Logan Eggleston, the 2022 National Player of the Year, and Zoe Fleck, the nation’s top libero, the Longhorns welcome back three other returning All-Americans and the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class. They’re still the team to beat.
  • Last season finish: No. 1 nationally, first in Big 12 at 15-1, 28-1 overall.
  • Top players: Asjia O’Neal (Sr., MB, 2022 All-America First Team, 3-time All-Big 12), Madisen Skinner (Jr., OH, 2022 All-America Third Team), Molly Phillips (Sr., OPP, 2022 All-America honorable mention).
  • Conference titles: 15 (1997, 2007-09, 2011-15, 2017-22).
  • NCAA tourneys: 39 (Every season except 2000 and 2003).
  • BYU and Texas history: BYU leads, 11-10. The two teams last played in 2019 with Texas winning 3-1 in a neutral site game. Two of BYU’s biggest wins in program history came against the Longhorns: a 3-1 victory over No. 2 Texas in the 2014 Final Four and a 3-0 sweep in Provo over the No. 5 Longhorns in the 2018 Elite Eight. The two teams also had a five-set thriller in the 2016 Sweet 16 that saw BYU reach match point before Texas pulled out the victory.
  • When they play: Sept. 28-29 in Austin.

Houston

  • Overview: Outside of some NCAA postseason appearances in the 1990s, Houston has had little to speak of in the way of volleyball tradition. But the red Cougars are coming off their best season in decades in 2022, finishing with a 30-4 record, including a 19-1 mark the American Athletic Conference. Capturing the team’s first conference title since 1999, the team also earned the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2000. Two All-America honorable mention honorees return, as do transfers Kenna Sauer, a two-time All-Big 12 First Teamer transferring in from Texas Tech, and Katie Corelli, an outside hitter originally from Kaysville, Utah, transferring from Ole Miss. Houston should be able to compete immediately in their first year in the Big 12.
  • Last season finish: No. 17 nationally, tied for first at 19-1 in AAC, 30-4 overall.
  • Top players: Kate Georgiades (Sr., L, All-America honorable mention), Abbie Jackson (Sr., OH, All-America honorable mention), Kenna Sauer (Sr., OH, All-Region).
  • Conference titles: 3 (1994, 1999, 2022).
  • NCAA tourneys: 12 (1989, 1991-00, ’22).
  • BYU and Houston history: BYU leads, 6-5. Six of the games were played before the NCAA sponsored volleyball beginning in 1981. Since then, BYU is 5-1. Most recently the two teams played in Provo in 2010 with Houston taking a 3-2 win.
  • When they play: Sept. 20 in the conference opener in Provo.

Baylor

  • Overview: The Bears have become mainstays in the Top 25 and NCAA Tournament the past few seasons, including a Big 12 title, No. 1 ranking and Final Four appearance in 2019 behind National Player of the Year Yossiana Pressley. Baylor has made the Sweet 16 every year since then, including last year as a 4-seed before losing to eventual national runner-up Louisville. Baylor is retooling this fall — of the Bears’ four players on the Big 12 First Team last year only setter Averi Carlson, the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, returns. However, Baylor’s incoming recruiting class is ranked seventh in the nation.
  • Last season finish: No. 15 nationally, second in Big 12 at 12-4, 25-7 overall.
  • Top players: Averi Carlson (So., S, Region and Big 12 Freshman of the Year), Allie Sczech (So., OPP, All-Big 12 Second Team).
  • Conference titles: 1 (2019).
  • NCAA tourneys: 11 (1999, 01, 09, 11, 2016-22).
  • BYU and Baylor history: The Bears and Cougars have battled once previously, a 3-2 Baylor win in an early season neutral site game in Hawaii in 2017. It was one of just two regular season losses for BYU that year.
  • When they play: Sept. 23 in Provo.

Kansas

  • Overview: The Jayhawks are a solid program, posting winning seasons 13 of the last 14 years and reaching the NCAA tourney 8 of the last 11 seasons, including a Final Four in 2015. Kansas returns most of its key contributors from last year, including top outside hitters Ayah Elnady and Caroline Bien and starting setter Camryn Turner. However, the Jayhawks have almost no returning experience at middle blocker, but did bring in Mykayla Myers, a three-year starter at TCU, to help fill the middle.
  • Last season finish: Received votes in final poll, fifth in Big 12 at 8-8, 19-11 overall.
  • Top players: Caroline Bien (Jr., OH, All-America honorable mention), Ayah Elnady (Jr., OH, All-Region)
  • Conference titles: 1 (2016).
  • NCAA tourneys: 11 (2003-05, ’12-’17, ’21-’22).
  • BYU and Kansas history: BYU holds a 3-1 series advantage, having won two games in 1973 and one in 2005. The Jayhawks won the most recent meeting in Lawrence in 2006.
  • When they play: Nov. 17 in Provo.

TCU

  • Overview: TCU returns 11 letterwinners from last year’s team that totaled a program-best 11 Big 12 wins and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016, defeating Washington in the opening round. The Frogs hope it’s a sign of better things to come — their third-place finish was just the second time in 11 years they’ve finished higher than sixth in the conference standings.
  • Last season finish: Third in Big 12 at 11-5, 17-11 overall.
  • Top players: Audrey Nalls (Sr., OH, All-Region, unanimous All-Big 12 First Team), Julia Adams (Sr., OH, 8th in career kills in program history).
  • Conference titles: 0.
  • NCAA tourneys: 4 (2009, ’15-’16, ’22).
  • BYU and TCU history: BYU holds a 14-3 series lead having played the Frogs twice yearly when both were members of the Mountain West Conference. The Cougars have a current two-game win streak in the series with a pair of victories in 2010.
  • When they play: Nov. 25 in Fort Worth.

Iowa State

  • Overview: The Cyclones are coming off their first 20-win season since 2018 and a second-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament. However, the road to reach those marks this fall will be tough without four-time All-Big 12 honoree Eleanor Holthaus lost to graduation. However, long-time head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch has led ISU to 15 NCAA tournaments in the last 17 seasons, so it’s hard to count out the Cyclones, even in a rebuilding year.
  • Last season finish: Received votes in final poll, fourth in Big 12 at 10-6, 20-12 overall.
  • Top players: Maya Duckworth (So., OH/RS, Region Freshman of the Year, All-Big 12 Second Team), Brooke Stonestreet (Jr., DS/L, 2022 Big 12 digs per set leader).
  • Conference titles: 0.
  • NCAA tourneys: 16 (1995, ’06-’17, ’19, ’21-’22).
  • BYU and Iowa State history: This year will be the first games between the two teams.
  • When they play: Oct. 19-20 in Provo.

UCF

  • Overview: Head coach Jenny Maurer was promoted to lead the Knights this spring after spending the last seven seasons as an assistant. She’ll look to continue a string of five-straight NCAA Tournament appearances and five-consecutive conference championships. However, UCF’s star, All-American outside hitter McKenna Melville, is gone, as is all-conference setter Amber Olson. It will be tough to keep the wins going this year.
  • Last season finish: No. 22 nationally, tied for first at 19-1 in AAC, 28-2 overall.
  • Top players: Abby Hansen (Sr., MB, All-AAC First Team), Claudia Dillon (Sr., MB, All-AAC First Team).
  • Conference titles: 17 (1986-87, 1992-97, 2001-03, 2014, ’18-’22).
  • NCAA tourneys: 13 (1994-97, ’01-’03, 2014, ’18-’22).
  • BYU and UCF history: BYU is 2-0 against UCF with sweeps in 2004 in Provo and 2006 in Orlando.
  • When they play: Nov. 9-10 in Orlando.

Kansas State

  • Overview: The Wildcats have a new head coach heading into the 2023 season — Jason Mansfield takes over after working as an assistant at Washington and Stanford. Kansas State has had losing conference records four of the past five seasons and will need to quickly adapt to its new coach to avoid finish in the bottom half of the Big 12 yet again.
  • Last season finish: Sixth in Big 12 at 6-10, 15-14 overall.
  • Top players: Aliyah Carter (Sr., OH, All-Region, All-Big 12 First Team), Sydney Bolding (Sr., MB, All-Big 12 Second Team).
  • Conference titles: 1 (2003).
  • NCAA tourneys: 18 (1996-05, ’07-’08, ’11-’12, ’14-’16, ’21).
  • BYU and Kansas State history: BYU is 3-1 against Kansas State, including sweeping the Wildcats in the most recent meeting in 2011 in Manhattan.
  • When they play: Oct. 26-27 in Manhattan.

Cincinnati

  • Overview: The Bearcats have historically been a solid program, highlighted by All-American and Olympic gold medalist Jordan Thompson’s run with the program from 2015-19. Cincy enters Big 12 play with a mix of young talent like Carly Glendinning, an All-Conference honoree last year as a freshman, and upperclassmen transfers such as Carly Skrabak, a defensive specialist from Marquette’s Sweet 16 team.
  • Last season finish: Fifth in AAC at 9-11, 11-19 overall.
  • Top players: Carly Glendinning (So., OH, All-AAC Second Team), Abby Walker (Jr., MB, All-AAC Second Team).
  • Conference titles: 6 (1999-2001, ’03, ’08, ’10).
  • NCAA tourneys: 13 (1981, ’99-’03, ’08-’11, ’16, ’18-’19).
  • BYU and Cincinnati history: BYU won the teams’ first and only meeting just last year in Provo.
  • When they play: Nov. 3-4 in Provo.

Texas Tech

  • Overview: Texas Tech lost its two All-Big 12 honorees from last year to the transfer portal and graduation, but senior starting setter Reese Rhodes and junior starting libero Maddie Correa return. Transfers Emily Merrick and Destiny Cox have been brought in to help the offense, but the Red Raiders are likely going to find it tough to replace their lost production.
  • Last season finish: Tied for seventh in Big 12 at 5-11, 16-13 overall.
  • Top players: Reese Rhodes (Sr., setter), Maddie Correa (Jr., libero).
  • Conference titles: 0.
  • NCAA tourneys: 9 (1990-92, ’95-’96, ’98, ’00-’01, ’21).
  • BYU and Texas Tech history: The series is tied at 2-2, with Texas Tech winning twice in 1980 and BYU claiming victory the last two meetings in 1981 and 1998.
  • When they play: Oct. 13-14 in Provo.

Oklahoma

  • Overview: The Sooners are bringing in a new head coach this year familiar to BYU fans — Aaron Mansfield arrives in Norman after serving six seasons as head coach at LMU. With a new head coach, transfers out of an already struggling program have been plentiful. OU is amazing in almost every sport, but in 2023 volleyball will not be one of them.
  • Last season finish: Tied for seventh in Big 12 at 5-11, 15-13 overall.
  • Top players: Alexis Shelton (So., OH, All-Big 12 Rookie Team), Lydia Burts (Sr., MB, All-ASUN First Team at Liberty).
  • Conference titles: 0.
  • NCAA tourneys: 12 (1987-88, ’97, ’06-’07, ’09-’14, ’19).
  • BYU and Oklahoma history: BYU leads the series, 5-2. The Cougars swept the Sooners in the second round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, but Oklahoma won a five-set match the following year in the teams’ most recent meeting.
  • When they play: Oct. 7 in Norman.

West Virginia

  • Overview: The Mountaineers are coming off a season where they won exactly zero Big 12 games; their hitting percentage was 322nd out of 332nd Division I teams. In other words, there’s nowhere to go but up — hopefully. Bailey Miller returns after leading the team in kills last season and will look to get help from Denver transfer Hailey Green. Lauren Bodily, a Woods Cross High School graduate, is also on the roster.
  • Last season finish: Ninth in Big 12 at 0-16, 7-22 overall.
  • Top players: Bailey Miller (So., OH), Melanie McGann (So., MB).
  • Conference titles: 1 (1991).
  • NCAA tourneys: 1 (2021).
  • BYU and West Virginia history: BYU has swept matches against the Mountaineers in 2014 in Morgantown and 2018 in Provo.
  • When they play: Nov. 22 in Morgantown.
Members of the BYU women’s team pose for a team picture prior to their NCAA Tournament second-round match against the Panthers. The Cougars dropped the match, but should be contenders in the Big 12 this season when they make the jump to the Power Five league. | Nate Edwards, BYU Photo
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