Hugh Carey, Deseret News
BYU student Jennifer Hamson was drafted in the second round of the WNBA draft but chose to return to BYU to finish her volleyball career. Hamson will weigh her options and decide which sport to pursue professionally.
Yeah, we’ve been able to jump out on some opponents and really keep it going. Now it’s about winning those close ones when we have the opportunity —BYU volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead

PROVO — BYU women’s volleyball games at the Smith Fieldhouse are starting to resemble the atmosphere of those of the men’s team and with good reason. Students and fans alike are catching on to the fact the women’s team can compete with the nation’s best and are subsequently treated to a good show on most occasions.

Recently the No. 11-ranked Cougars squared off against rival Utah in front of a packed home crowd at the Smith Fieldhouse and came away with another dominating straight set victory (25-18, 25-16, 25-7.) Indeed all nine of BYU’s wins this season have come in straight sets.

“Yeah, we’ve been able to jump out on some opponents and really keep it going. Now it’s about winning those close ones when we have the opportunity,” said BYU coach Shawn Olmstead.

The Cougars had a prime opportunity to knock off one of the nation’s best earlier this month when they took on then No. 5-ranked Washington. Again fans showed up in droves to create a truly electric atmosphere as BYU lost narrowly in a five-set thriller (25-18, 22-25, 25-21, 21-25, 15-10.)

"We've made an effort to get fans out and it's so great to see them respond," said senior Tambre Nobles. "It helps us so much when we have a good crowd. It makes a big difference for us and it's so much fun to play in front of a big and supportive crowd."

Playing in front of a big crowd against a top-ranked opponent is all fine and good, but winning those matches is the obvious next step. Given BYU's start this season, the returning talent, and the experience of reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament the last two seasons, reaching that next level appears attainable.

First things first, however, for a team that starts West Coast Conference play this weekend with two matches versus Gonzaga and Portland.

"Every coach says it, but it really is all about taking one game at a time," Olmstead said. "It's taking care of each game and not getting ahead of yourself. We feel we're playing well, but we also know we're not as good as we're going to be by the end of the year."

Leading the way for the Cougars is a fearsome front line that features junior outside hitter Alexa Gray (6-foot-2), sophomore middle blockers Whitney Young (6-0) and Amy Boswell (6-4) along with senior opposite Jen Hamson (6-7), whom Olmstead believes will go down in history as the best female athlete ever to play at BYU.

"You look at what she's accomplished playing both basketball and volleyball — she's just cementing herself as the greatest female athlete ever here," Olmstead said. "I don't think many people truly understand how difficult it is to do what she's done while maintaining a very high grade point average. She's truly phenomenal in every way."

It's not all about the front line, and the Cougars have proved solid in the back row, and with the less-featured positions.

"I feel we have a lot of other players who have stepped up," Nobles said. "I feel our defense has gotten a lot better where you have players like Ciara Parker who has improved a ton since last year along with others."

Overall both players and coaches are confident they have the goods to win the West Coast Conference championship and perhaps work their way past the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.

"We try not to talk about it too much, but yeah, we definitely feel we can go far this year," Olmstead said. "But to go far you have to focus on what is right in front of you and make sure you improve every week. But yeah, I like how we've worked and I like where we're at."

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney