PROVO — Break out the "Hello, my name is . . . " stickers. The new-look BYU women's volleyball team is heavy on the "new" after feeling the effects of retirement, graduation and motherhood.

That would be the retirement of legendary Cougar head coach Elaine Michaelis after 40 years at the helm; the graduation of three-time All-American Nina Puikkonen, fellow middle blocker Jackie Bundy and outside hitter Natalie Whittaker; and the redshirting of senior outside hitter Sunny Mahe, who is expecting her first child — a girl — in mid-November.

Taking over for Michaelis is longtime BYU assistant coach Karen Lamb, who has coached previously at UNLV and Washington State and was the Cougars' first volleyball All-American in 1977.

Boasting the most experience of the inexperienced Cougar squad are returning starters and Mountain West Conference honorees Karina Puikkonen and Uila Crabbe — Puikkonen a two-year setter and Crabbe a back-row standout.

The only other player with considerable on-court time is sophomore outside hitter Laruen Richards, who played 19 matches last year but spent her time with the U.S. Junior National Team as a setter.

Joining Richards on the outside will be sophomores Becky Warnick and Lindsey Steele Metcalf and senior Allison Larson, all of whom saw limited action last year. Newcomers on the ends include Long Beach State transfer April Varner, Ricks College transfer Sahara Castillo and Provo freshman Kimberly Wilson.

Battling to filling the vacancy left in the middle will be four relatively untested players — junior Carrie Bowers, redshirt freshman Lexi Brown, Ricks transfer Laura Nielsen and freshman Lindsy Lewis. Larson could shift over from the outside if pressed for middle duty.

Puikkonen, a two-time all-conference setter, offers on-court versatility at the position, with the equally versatile Richards backing her up.

Crabbe, the conference's co-defensive specialist of the year, could see even more playing time as the NCAA adopts the libero rule in 2002.

The libero is a designated back-row player who cannot serve, attack or set inside the attack line. With the libero allowed to replace any player in a back-row position, such replacements don't count against regular substitution limits.

BYU was picked to finish third in the Mountain West this season, behind Colorado State and Utah. All three are ranked in the preseason Top 25; all three finished in the rankings last year and were joined by San Diego State in NCAA tournament play in 2001.

The Cougars open the 2002 season in tournament action this weekend at Washington State, returning to Provo to host perennial powerhouse Southern California on Sept. 5 (Tuesday) and Oral Roberts, Wake Forest and Florida in round-robin play the weekend of Sept. 6-7.

Eleven of BYU's 2002 opponents were ranked in the Top 25 at the end of last season, and the Cougars are scheduled to face 17 teams that qualified for last year's NCAA tournament.


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