PROVO No one could fault the BYU women's volleyball team for basking in the glow of its recently completed season.
Among other things, the Cougars (24-8) won 11 of their final 13 matches, upset No. 6 Washington on the Huskies' home court to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament and defeated No. 16 Middle Tennessee to reach the Elite Eight before falling, last Saturday, to No. 1 Penn State on the Nittany Lions' home court.
But instead of looking back, BYU is eagerly looking forward to next season and building upon the success it enjoyed in 2007.
"I'm ready to get back on the court already," said junior middle blocker Rachel Dyer. "Each year we've gone a little bit farther in the postseason. We're learning what it takes and getting better. Hopefully, we'll continue that progression. What we did this season sets a standard, definitely. We've always had goals to make it that far, but after achieving it, I think we understand more about what it takes to get there and the kind of work it's going to take to get there."
The Cougars, who finished in a second-place tie in the final MWC standings, want to be recognized as one of the top programs in the country.
"Even though we weren't seeded that high in the tournament, we proved we can finish in the top eight," said departing senior Chelsea Goodman. "We're right up there with the big dogs that were seeded above us. For sure, it helps our program."
Coach Jason Watson is happy with his team's performance, particularly the last month of the season.
"We hope it's representative of the direction the program is going," he said. "We continue, over the last three postseason berths, to get a little bit better. That experience is key. There are good things going on.
"We have no regrets over the way the season finished," he continued. "We went up against the best team in the country and we came up short. Now we understand a lot more about what it takes to get to be a Penn State and to get to the Final Four. It takes a lot. Every year, we've asked more and more of our athletes. Now, they understand, even more, what it's going to take to get to that next level."
Watson was pleased with the way the Cougars overcame adversity during the season.
"At one stage, we were 4-3 in (Mountain West Conference play) and things weren't looking so good," he said. "That was not the start we anticipated from this group. But they persevered and kept going. They certainly ended a lot better than they started."
As for next season, BYU loses Goodman, an outside hitter who set the MWC career double-double record this year with 57. The three-time all-league selection ranked among the conference's top 10 in kills, aces, points and digs this season. Goodman finished her Cougar career ranked among the top seven all-time in school history in career kills, digs and kills per game.
Also graduating are starters Erica Lott and Annie Pinegar.
"We're going to have some big questions to answer," Watson said. "We lose five players. The most visible of those Lott, Goodman and Pinegar are going to be difficult to replace. All five have contributed to the direction this program is gone. We have some young players in our program who are going to have to step up. We hope the experience they gained this season will be beneficial for them."
Dyer acknowledged that losing those seniors will be tough, adding that it's time for the younger players to carry the load.
"Those are big shoes to fill. They're incredible players and leaders. But they've set good examples for us and we'll try to fill those roles," she said.
Watson said the Cougars will count heavily on a few returning players.
"The key next year is Rachel Dyer and Bryn Porter. They're both experienced and seniors. We're going to look to them for their leadership. (Middle blocker) Ashton Hansen had a nice sophomore year. We want her to continue to develop that identity."The Cougars plan to set their sights high next season. "We'll always have high goals for our team. We wouldn't have it any other way," Dyer said. "BYU volleyball has a great tradition and we want to keep it alive. I feel a responsibility to our alumni and players who have gone before me and done so much for this program. I feel responsible to uphold that standard they've set."