When the 1997 volleyball season came to a close, Wildcat coach Al Givens was understandably disappointed.

Weber State managed only a 12-17 record and didn't appear to have impressed many people around the Big Sky after having finished next to last. In preseason polls, the Wildcats are picked to end the current campaign only a step up the league ladder at seventh.However, Givens thinks that's hogwash, especially since he returns five healthy starters and one that redshirted last season after an injury sidelined her for the year.

"I think the players and the staff are excited to see how we are going to look," Givens said. "I have been impressed with the athletes' work ethic they have given during double days. I saw a lot of areas that I was real pleased with."

The Wildcat season began Tuesday when Albertson's College came to the Dee Events Center and lost 15-0, 15-5, 15-1. Givens is looking at the match against the NAIA Coyotes as a safe-but-valuable indicator as to where his team stands.

"There is nothing like playing an opponent to point out the weaknesses and areas that we need to focus on," he said.

Leading the charge back to challenge in the Big Sky are senior outside hitters Melissa Leonard and JoLynne Godfrey. Blockers Laura Black and Liz Weston-Covill are also returning as juniors to provide the needed defensive presence at the net the Wildcats will need if they are to be competitive.

Setting the ball will be sophomore Robyn Shea. She started as a freshman before sitting last season out to recover from a hand injury.

While Givens has made no bones about wanting to challenge for the Big Sky title right away, the Wildcats may have considerable ground to cover. They haven't finished any better than this year's predicted seventh-place since 1994.

SOCCER: Weber State's soccer team is doing what every expansion team could hope for - winning.

After spending years as one of the top club teams in the nation, the Wildcats finally went varsity two years ago and in just their second year, posted a 16-5-1 record and finished second in the Big Sky.

This time around, co-coaches Lynn Kofoed and Tom Vud-hi-va-dha-na bring back nine starters and 15 letter-winners in search of a conference championship.

"Our returning players all seem pretty strong," Kofoed said. "I don't think they have lost much since the spring session and they have kept their game at a pretty high level."

All-conference players and sisters Tara and Tricia Ferrin are back along with Deedra Russell to lead the team as captains.

After an exhibition season-opening 6-1 victory over Dixie College, the Wildcats opened the regular season against a first-year squad from Boise State, winning 3-0 Tuesday. Things really get rolling when they travel to Logan to match up with Utah State Friday afternoon.

"It's the beginning of the season for us . . ." Kofoed said. "We are still trying to find our formations and combinations that work well. We need to concentrate on following the game plan."

With all the returning players coming back from a successful season, Kofoed acknowledges scoring goals might not be difficult, but preventing other teams from doing the same is the main worry.

"We expect mistakes. We just look to have a strong offense to overcome any defensive mistakes that we might make."