PROVO — Bouncing back from a losing season in 2010, the BYU women’s volleyball team put up a 21-9 record in 2011 for its most successful season since 2007. The Cougars tied for third place in their inaugural season in the West Coast Conference, exceeding the No. 6 conference preseason ranking.
A new coaching staff marked a fresh start for a team that went 14-16, 15-14 and 14-12 the past three seasons.
“Our overall look at 2011 is it was a huge success for BYU and the women’s volleyball program,” BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said. “We had some wonderful wins on the road and at home.”
After opening the season with tough competition in the BYU Invitational, which included an Illinois team who ranked as high as No. 1 in the nation during the season, the Cougars went on a nine-match winning streak. The team took down in-state rivals Weber State, Utah and Utah State and recorded a sweep against Kansas State during the run, which ended in a loss to Cal State Fullerton on Sept. 16.
BYU started off conference play with a strong sweep of Saint Mary’s and a 3-2 nail-biter against Loyola Marymount on the Lions’ home court. The Cougars’ first conference loss came against San Diego, ranked No. 18 at the time. The Oct. 1 loss opened a tough month for BYU, who played nationally ranked Pepperdine and San Diego each twice during October.
The Cougars went 3-2 in November, a rocky end to the successful season with their first back-to-back losses to Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. With great effort from the team’s three seniors, BYU ended on a high note with a 3-0 victory over Portland on Senior Day.
“Overall we did a great job in conference against great competition,” said Olmstead, who completed his first season as a head coach in November. “Conference play reiterated to us how great the WCC is as a volleyball conference. It was exciting to play against a handful of wonderful universities and play that level of volleyball.”
Sophomore opposite hitter Jennifer Hamson received All-America honorable mention and All-Pacific region honors for her 2011 performance. Five Cougars picked up postseason all-conference accolades, with Hamson and Christie Carpenter earning First Team All-WCC. Hamson and Nicole Warner picked up Academic All-WCC honors and Kendalyn Hartsock received an Academic All-WCC honorable mention. Carpenter was also named to the Preseason All-WCC team.
Junior middle blocker Warner ended the season at the top of the WCC in blocking with 1.51 per set. The number also gave her a No. 6 national ranking to finish 2011, though she ranked as high as No. 1 during preconference play.
“Nicole is a tremendous asset to the team as a middle blocker,” Olmstead said. “She sets the stage every day for practice and matches. We love her work ethic and look for her to contribute to our team even more offensively next season, as much as she does defensively.”
Hamson also found success in her breakout season, topping the league with 3.94 kills per set. Hamson set career highs against Illinois, Saint Mary’s and Loyola Marymount. The sophomore, from Lindon, Utah, led the team with 422 total kills. Hamson finished the season ranked No. 22 in the nation for points per set with 4.88.
Hamson reached double figures in kills 26 times in 2011 and recorded 11 double-doubles.
“(Hamson’s) play and her ability essentially speak for themselves,” Olmstead said. “A lot of people don’t understand how impressive her time management is, juggling athletics — both volleyball and basketball — and academics. She’ll be a dominant volleyball player for years to come.”
BYU’s libero Hartsock broke BYU’s single-season average digs record, dishing out 4.26 per set to smash Annie Pinegar’s 2007 record of 3.98 per set. Hartsock is No. 2 for total digs in a season with 456 and sits at No. 6 all time for digs in a match with 31 against San Francisco on Oct. 27.
Carpenter bounced back from a preseason knee injury that benched her for the first week of competition. The senior outside hitter tallied 281 kills at 2.93 per set for the second most on the team. Carpenter also contributed 2.18 kills per set and had five double-doubles during the season.
“Christie had a remarkable senior season,” Olmstead said. “Her play and leadership speak volumes. She contributed in so many ways on and off the court in terms of our team culture and team chemistry.”
Junior Heather Hannemann stepped easily into the setter position when the Cougars lost Kiana Rogers after last season. Hannemann raked in 1,127 total kills at 10.53 per set. The setter had the second highest number of double-doubles this season with eight. She set a new career high in assists, recording 55 against San Francisco in the Nov. 5 matchup.
Hartsock and Warner helped the 2011 squad to BYU’s top-10 list in eight categories. This year’s Cougars came in at No. 1 for digs in a three-set match and No. 2 for digs in a four-set match. This season’s team ranks No. 6 for blocks in a match, with 21 against Loyola Marymount, block assists, with 573 total, team blocks, with 320.5 total, and blocks per set, with 3.00.
Warner’s blocking put BYU at No. 7 in NCAA Division I volleyball for blocks per set. The Cougars also ranked in the NCAA’s top 50 for hitting percentage with .243, putting the team at No. 48.
Middle blocker Kathryn LeCheminant also helped out with BYU’s exceptional blocking, putting in 1.18 blocks per set. LeCheminant made the top-100 list for blocking, coming in at No. 48.
Five new recruits joined BYU for 2011, including Tia Withers, who started 20 of the 30 matches, and Katie Vaughn, who started seven matches. Withers averaged 2.02 digs and Vaughn averaged 1.79 kills at outside hitter. Mariah Katoa, Kimberly Dahl and Hannah Robison also joined the team.
The Cougars lose three power hitters next season — Carpenter, Camilla Phillips and Casey Thurston. Taking their places are middle blocker Amy Boswell (sister of current team member Kimberli Boswell), middle blocker Alexa Gray, libero Ciara Parker and setter Samantha Staker.Comment on this story
“We’re looking forward to another great season competing in the WCC,” Olmstead said. “We’re excited about the kids returning with experience and more excited about the opportunity the younger girls have to step up and accept a new role on the team.”
Season Attendance Records
San Diego-2,220-Oct. 22
Weber State-1,405 Aug. 30
San Francisco-1,237-Nov. 5
Rachel Hawks is the sports information director for BYU women's volleyball.