The BYU women's volleyball team finds itself back in familiar waters this weekend, as the Cougars host the San Diego State Aztecs in a first-round NCAA playoff 7:30 p.m. Friday night at the Smith Fieldhouse.
BYU will be making its 19th appearance in a national championship - second only to UCLA's string of 22 visits to the nationals. However, the Cougars experienced an uncharacteristic absence from the NCAA tournament last year - missing a postseason for the first time in a decade.Now back in the fold as NCAA tournament participants, the Cougars have found that little has changed with the seeding procedure - no matter the order of the teams in the national rankings, the 32 tournament teams are divided up geographically according to four regions.
And, true to the form of past seasons, BYU finds itself mired in the loaded West Region. Here's a listing of the West Region teams and their regional seedings, with their national rankings following in parenthesis: No. 1 UCLA (1st) vs. No. 8 Gonzaga (unranked); No. 2 Stanford (3rd) vs. No. 7 Wyoming (currently unranked, previously ranked 19th); No. 3 BYU (11th) vs. No. 6 San Diego State (19th); and No. 4 New Mexico (13th) vs. No. 5 Pepperdine (14th).
That's six of the nation's top 20 teams - and five of the top 14 - in one of the nation's four NCAA regionals.
"It's the same old story," bemoans BYU Coach Elaine Michaelis. "They still aren't seeding outside the regions, so it's still cross-region play . . . It's as wrong now as it was before."
The Cougars finished the regular season with a 26-7 overall record and an 11th-place ranking in the NCAA poll and a 12-place spot in the AVCC rankings.
All seven of BYU's losses were to teams currently that are or were once ranked in the top 10, with four defeats to top five teams.
Meanwhile, the Cougars logged victories over eighth-ranked UC-Santa Barbara, 14th-ranked New Mexico and 19th-ranked San Diego State. Other triumphs were posted against NCAA tournament entrants Gonzaga, Wyoming, Texas- Arlington, Idaho State, Montana and Kentucky.
Although picked in preseason polls to finish third, BYU won this year's inaugural WAC women's volleyball title with a 9-1 league record. The Cougars' sole loss was a road defeat at WAC runner-up New Mexico.
BYU is led by a foursome who earned all-conference honors - senior Tea Nieminen was named WAC player of the year; junior Marinda Gorbahn Ashman joined Nieminen on the All-WAC first team; senior setter Carla Gee was selected to the second team; and Tumua Matu'u gained WAC freshman-of-the-year recognition.
Nieminen and Gee are listed in the top 10 national in individual statistical categories - Nieminen's average of 5.26 kills per game is good for third, while Gee's 12.74 assist average is sixth. Nieminen has recorded 30- plus kills in five matches this season, with a high of 35 kills against Colorado State.
Ranked 19th in both polls, San Diego State sports a 23-11 overall record and a 6-4 league mark.
The Aztecs are led by senior Angela martin, who has logged 550 kills and is fourth in the WAC with 4.51 kills per game.