University Beat: BYU women trending upward
Provo • These are heady days for women's sports at BYU.
At least for now, the school's soccer and volleyball teams have become the most talked about programs on campus and off.
"I read [to the team] an e-mail from fan in Oklahoma," BYU soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood said. "They were not an LDS family, but they saw a game on TV last year and saw every single game on TV this year. We told the girls they have fans they don't even know about."
The women's volleyball team believes it can walk the same path as the third-ranked soccer team, which came within a whisker of advancing to the Final Four of the NCAA College Cup. North Carolina scored with four minutes remaining in the second overtime, four minutes before the penalty shootout. The Cougars advanced to the Sweet 16 by beating Marquette in such a shootout.
Now BYU's volleyball team, which slowly has improved its top 25 ranking since the start of the season, enters Friday's first round of the NCAA Tournament as the 12th seed. The Cougars (26-3) play New Mexico State (22-10) at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Fieldhouse with either Oklahoma or Arizona State waiting in round two Saturday.
"It's exciting," BYU coach Shawn Olmstead, the WCC Coach of the Year, said about the tournament. "It's a good spot to be, I believe. It's going to be great competition. It's exciting for our program, it's exciting for BYU, and I think it's exactly where we want to be right now."
Tickets sales began Tuesday and since the women are the only show on campus this weekend, a large crowd is expected. The Cougars are one of the best teams in the country, having made nearly a clean sweep of the conference awards.
Intimidating 6-foot-7 middle blocker Jennifer Hamson was named Player of the Year, while Alexa Gray was Freshman of the Year. Nicole Warner, who led the nation in blocks, earned Defensive Player of the Year honors.
"We like our team," Olmstead said. "When we play our best volleyball, we can beat anybody."
However, it takes more than winning to draw crowds to sports that normally receive scant attention when compared to football and basketball.
Anyone who saw either team play knows BYU also wins with style points.
"I think that's why we became such a favorite among the fans here," said Cami Jensen, a senior on the BYU soccer team. "Just being able to represent BYU [in] the manner that it needed to be ... to put BYU out there more and put the soccer program on a higher pedestal than it has been in the past."