Eye On The Y is The Salt Lake Tribune’s weekly newsletter on BYU athletics. Subscribe here.
Provo • Former BYU football walk-on Ben Criddle, host of a local sports talk radio show, posed an interesting question the other day. With the 2018-19 school year winding down, which of BYU’s sports teams most exceeded expectations, he asked.
It obviously wasn’t the revenue sports — football and men’s basketball — which posted winning records but failed to make much of a national splash. Women’s volleyball went the farthest, all the way to the Final Four, but that was pretty much expected since the team spent the majority of the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
Women’s basketball would be my pick as the biggest overachiever; Coach Jeff Judkins’ team won the West Coast Conference tournament title and an NCAA Tournament game. The Cougars’ star player, freshman guard Shaylee Gonzales, was one of 30 players invited to try out for the USA U19 team last week, and was selected as an alternate to the 12-member team that will play in the World Cup tournament.
Of course, three BYU teams are still competing in postseason tournaments/championships and could make some real noise on a national level beginning this weekend. The next three days will keep athletic director Tom Holmoe extremely busy, and will go a long way in determining where BYU finishes in the Learfield IMG College Directors’ Cup standings.
BYU’s No. 24-ranked baseball team clinched its first outright conference regular-season championship in 30 years last weekend by taking two of three from Santa Clara and opens the WCC tournament Thursday vs. No. 4 seed LMU in Stockton, Calif.
The big question heading into the tournament, as I outlined here, is whether the Cougars have already wrapped up an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. It’s going to be close — coach Mike Littlewood believes the Cougars need to get to Saturday’s championship game.
BYU’s men’s golf team finished second last week at the Pullman (Wash.) Regional and begins play in the NCAA Championships Thursday in Fayetteville, Ark. I wrote extensively about how the NCAA is accommodating BYU’s no-Sunday play policy for the second-straight year in this piece, and what coach Bruce Brockbank learned last year that can help the “playing alone” Cougars in their opening round.
BYU is sending a school-record 59 athletes to the NCAA West Preliminary Round of the NCAA Track and Field Championships this week in Sacramento, including freshman sprinter Jaslyn Gardner. I wrote about the phenom from Enterprise who broke a 22-year-old school record in the 100 meters in this piece.
There was also football and basketball news this past week:
• The BYU Sports Network announced that former BYU quarterback Riley Nelson will replace Marc Lyons as the color analyst on BYU football broadcasts. Here’s my take.
• Jeff Call of the Deseret News went deep on the BYU broadcasting news.
• Here’s more on the BYU track team’s success from Brandon Gurney of the Deseret News.
• Jimmer Fredette was in town last week and spoke about his time with the Phoenix Suns at the end of the NBA season to the Deseret News.
• The Athletic is a pay site, but this piece on Mark Pope is certainly worth the price.
Here’s Littlewood on what it means to earn the No. 1 seed for the WCC Baseball Tournament:
“Well, it feels good. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, though, heading into the tournament. It means we get to wear white uniforms, and face the best pitcher in the league [LMU’s Codie Paiva]. … To get the championship outright, it is pretty special, especially after last year and the struggles we went through [finishing 22-28].”
• BYU’s softball team won a game at the NCAA Stillwater (Okla.) Regional, downing No. 23 Arkansas in a elimination game, but was ousted by Tulsa 6-4 in the second elimination game last Friday. The Cougars, who ended the season with a 30-26 overall record, opened the regional with a 3-1 loss to host Oklahoma State. They won their sixth-straight WCC title and 11th straight conference championship while making their 15th-straight regional appearance.
It was another stellar season for one of the most underrated programs on campus.
• In men’s tennis, BYU junior Sean Hill was named the ITA Player to Watch for the Mountain Region, which consists of 20 schools in the West. Hill posted a 19-2 regular season singles record at the No. 1 position and a 13-4 regular season doubles record.
• BYU’s women’s soccer team finished the 2019 spring season with an 8-1-1 record. That included a 2-1 win over rival Utah and a 1-1 draw with the Argentina Women’s National Team.
• BYU’s women’s volleyball star Roni Jones-Perry will be playing professionally in Brescia, Italy, next season, the program announced Thursday. “I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and wouldn’t have it without the endless support of friends, coaches, teammates and fans,” Jones-Perry said.