Y. volleyball team reaches final four

Success is nothing new to the BYU women's volleyball team. But the 1993 squad stepped it up a notch, reaching the NCAA tournament Final Four.

"They tell me this is the only team in the history of the school to make the Final Four in this kind of set-up [NCAA team tournaments feeding into a Final FourT," said BYU coach Elaine Michaelis. "It was pretty sweet to get that far."The Cougars drove through the West Regional, knocking off defending NCAA champion UCLA in the process, to join Penn State, Long Beach State and Florida in the Final Four at Madison, Wis., Dec. 16-18. The ride, however, ended when Penn State topped the Cougars - 15-13, 6-15, 16-14, 15-12 - in the semifinals. Long Beach State won the national championship.

In the 13 years that the NCAA has sanctioned the national volleyball tournament, BYU has finished in the top 10 nine times, reaching the regional finals five times. The Cougars failed to place in the NCAA tournament only once.

They went into the Penn State match this year with a 29-2 record, and were undefeated in the WAC (14-0) for the second year in a row. The Cougars lost their season opener at Hawaii on Sept. 2 (Hawaii does not compete in the WAC in volleyball), but came back the next day to avenge that loss. They went on to win 25 matches in a row until the UCLA Bruins tripped them up in five games on Nov. 26 in an invitational tournament.

One of the highlights of the Cougars' season came two weeks later when they swept UCLA out of the Western Regionals in three games on the Bruins' home court.

It was a milestone victory, the coach said. "We've been knocking on the door to be the region winner since the NCAA took over [from the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for WomenT and it finally opened up for us."

Then she said, "What I'll always remember about this team is that it's such a good team. There are not a lot of stars. We have people who know their roles and they enjoy each other. There's just great camaraderie."

Speaking of the loss to Penn State, she said, "It was a hard loss because it was a close loss. We just didn't get the breaks. But that's just the way it is in athletics, especially when you get to the top and all the teams are pretty good."

The Cougars should field another quality team next season, according to Coach Michaelis who has coached at BYU for 32 years.

They lose four seniors - All-West Region first teamers Michele Fellows and Tumua Matu'u, all-WAC player Carol Rawson, and defensive specialist Shauna Scott.

But among those coming back is all-region first teamer Charlene Johnson, "the best setter in the country, no question about that," Coach Michaelis said. Johnson made the all-Final Four team.

Also returning are junior Virpi Ollila and freshman Gale Oborn, who picked up a lot of experience splitting playing time as outside hitters, and junior outside hitter Marianne Clark.

"And [junior] Laura Miller and [sophomore] Ann-Marie Lindqvist have been waiting for Fellows and Rawson to leave so they could have the middle blocker position," the coach explained.

Other returning players along with some quality recruits should keep the Cougars in national contention, according to their coach.

"The visibility that we've gotten from this year's team going to the Final Four and being on national television and on KBYU has given the program a boost. It allowed people to see the product - the sport and the quality with which we play it," Coach Michaelis said.

"We'd like that national championship, but that's about the only thing that eluded us this year."

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