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Jaren Wilkey, BYU
BYU's Mary Lake celebrates the Cougars' victory over St. Louis on Aug. 25, 2017, at the Nike Invitational.
People think that we’re not that great of a defensive team and we kind of have that chip on our shoulder to get better. —Mary Lake

PROVO — A lot of the fan focus with volleyball is on the front line and the big hitters who score most of the points, and maybe particularly so at BYU, and deservedly so. Both the men's and women's volleyball teams have featured some of the nation's best on the front row in recent years, leading to a lot of success for both programs.

But, much like it is the case with any sport, the big scores are often set up by a variety of underscored factors. In volleyball it comes by effective serving, receiving, and passing — all of which lead up to the big swings up front by standouts such as BYU's Veronica Jones-Perry and McKenna Miller.

Jones-Perry grabbed the headlines in the BYU women's team's second-round sweep over Oregon in the NCAA tournament last Saturday, and for good reason, considering her 27 kills over three sets. But, according to BYU coach Heather Olmstead, it was the shortest player on her squad who perhaps deserved as much praise.

“Mary Lake was phenomenal, and she was carrying our team,” Olmstead said. “We had 40 digs against Oregon, and she had half of them. I think it says a lot about our grittiness and our resiliency to keep trying to get that ball up.”

Lake is a 5-foot-7 sophomore libero, who was recently named a first-team performer for the Pacific South regions, and the leader of a BYU defensive effort that deserves attention.

“People think that we’re not that great of a defensive team and we kind of have that chip on our shoulder to get better,” Lake said. “So we just focus a lot on digging and passing because defense wins championships. … You have to have a good defense if you want to play with the big boys.”

It's not all Lake, though. Players and coach Olmstead quickly note effective back row players, such as Tristyn Moser and Sydnie Martindale, along with Jones-Perry, who, unlike some big pin-hitters, doesn't rotate out during most matches.

"For her to become the sixth-rotation player she is — it's phenomenal," Olmstead said of Jones-Perry. "That's just her hard work. She wanted to do it, and she did it."

Still, it's Lake who is looked at to carry the BYU defensive effort from the back row.

“We have a lot of good passers, so we’re totally fine with anyone else passing the ball, but we like Mary to get as many touches as she can,” Olmstead said.

As mentioned, Lake enjoyed a successful freshman campaign, which saw her named an All-West Coast Conference freshman performer despite playing the entire season with a balky knee brace after recovering from an ACL tear.

This year she's further removed from the injury and upping her game due to a variety of factors.

“Mary just keeps getting better and she’s a humble kid and she keeps wanting to get better,” Olmstead said. “So I’m happy to see her playing well and she’s done everything we’ve asked her to do.”

For Lake, she feels it's just the natural progression from year one to year two, while becoming even more of a team leader.

“Just the difference between being a freshman and (having one) year has been great,” Lake said. “So volleyball is just fun now. And it’s awesome.”