As students prepare to leave home once again for another year of studies, homework and exams, athletes and fans are preparing for another terrific calendar year of collegiate athletics.
Though football and men's basketball are by far the most profitable for universities and popular among fans, many more athletes in several other sports have spent the time and given the effort to excel as well. Several hundred athletes — not just the ones we regularly read about in the media — will take to the hardwood, swimming pools, tennis courts, soccer pitches and baseball diamonds of Utah to compete for collegiate championships no less valid than any other.
Among the hundreds of athletes that represent Utah's major universities are students that come from as far away as Australia and as close as the Salt Lake Valley itself. Some are very big, tall and heavy. Others are smaller, lighter and much shorter. All of them are very, very good at what they do.
From football to volleyball, from baseball to basketball, from gymnastics to soccer, Here are 30 of those athletes that get a little less attention than they deserve, 10 each from BYU, Utah and USU.
At a school with 19 sanctioned sports that compete at the Division I level, there are hundreds of athletes in any given season who will don the team's colors and hit the playing field.
Some are well-known and established starters on their respective teams, while others are athletes who are on the rise and aiming to make key contributions this season.
Whatever the case, there are plenty of athletes at BYU whose accomplishments deserve attention.
Here's a look at 10 Cougar athletes to pay attention to this season.
Height/weight: 6-foot-7/282 pounds
Position: Defensive end
Kaufusi made an impact as a freshman last season, his first year back after fulfilling an LDS Church mission. He even moonlighted as a hoopster, joining the men's basketball team last year when the Cougars needed big-man help after incurring some injuries.
His 4.5 sacks tied for second on the BYU team with eventual NFL draft pick Ezekiel Ansah, all while never starting a single game. He also had 23 tackles — 5.5 for loss — and a fumble recovery.
This season, Kaufusi is expected to fill the shoes of Ansah and help senior All-America candidate Kyle Van Noy put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
“That’s the plan,” Kaufusi told Deseret News columnist Dick Harmon.
Sport: Women's soccer
Even as a freshman, Murphy made her mark on a BYU team that reached the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament.
Her eight goals were second on the team, as were her seven assists. Among her highlights was a beautiful header (shown in the above video) that put the Cougars up 3-1 against No. 6 Penn State in September.
The Alta High product earned several postseason accolades after starting all 24 games for BYU in a 20-2-2 season. In addition to being named to the All-West Coast Conference freshman team, she was declared the All-American Freshman of the Year by CollegeSportsMadness.com and earned Soccer America All-Freshman second team honors.
Murphy will have an even greater role on this year's team as the Cougars' top returning offensive weapon.
Sport: Women's volleyball
Position: Middle blocker/outside hitter
Gray immediately worked her way into a starring role on the 2012 Cougars' squad, and now she will have the chance to improve upon her performance from last season.
In her first year at BYU, the then-freshman played in every set and finished the year second on the team in kills, with 365, while averaging 3.26 kills per set. She also had 71 digs and 67 blocks.
All that work paid off for the Canadian as she earned honorable mention All-America honors and was named the WCC Freshman of the Year, as well as to the All-MWC first team.
Gray will be the leading returner in kills after two-sport standout Jennifer Hamson, who had 458 kills for BYU last season, decided to redshirt in volleyball in 2013 to concentrate on playing women's basketball for the Cougars. She will play her senior volleyball season in 2014.
With senior middle blocker Kathryn LeCheminant and sophomore outside hitter Kimberly Dahl back, though, the Cougar offense still goes into 2013 with many of its offensive weapons back after a Sweet 16 NCAA finish last season.
Height/weight: 6-foot-6/206 pounds
Position: Wide receiver
Everyone knows Cody Hoffman, the dynamic wide receiver who could set BYU career marks in five categories. Other receivers like Ross Apo, JD Falslev and Skyler Ridley have also been consistent contributors.
Mathews, though, could provide BYU an added dimension at an already loaded position. Thus far in fall camp, he has shown his athletic ability to make plays. (His athletic skills are on display in the video above, where he shows his crazy dunking ability before a BYU basketball game).
"I’ve trained harder this summer than I ever have. I don’t want what happened last season to happen ever again," Mathews told Jeff Call. "I think everyone has that same vibe.”
As Taysom Hill heads into his first full season as the Cougars' starting quarterback, he can breathe easier knowing he has arguably a solid wide receiving group there to help whenever he is in a pinch.
Sport: Men's basketball
Mika is the lone incoming freshman on this list, and for good reason. He will be the first of the three high-profile Lone Peak recruits — including Nick Emery and TJ Haws — to hit the hardwood for the Cougars.
With last October's announcement by the LDS Church lowering its missionary age to 18 when young men can begin to serve, Emery chose to head on a church mission before his college career starts. Mika, however, will head straight to BYU, a benefit for Mika after he had to sit out his junior year in high school due to transfer rules.
"Unless I'm scoring 40 points and getting 20 boards every game and going straight to the NBA, I don't think I'll skip out on a mission," Mika jokingly told the Associated Press in March. "It will be good both physically and mentally. It will get me in the right mode to just be ready to work every day. And hopefully I mature physically."
His arrival couldn't come at a better time for BYU, who must replace the talented Brandon Davies, who signed a partially guaranteed contract with the L.A. Clippers. While the Cougars have post men Nate Austin and Josh Sharp returning, Mika could — and many expect he should — earn himself a spot in the starting lineup.
Last year, Mika, Emery and Haws guided the Knights to the MaxPreps No. 1 national ranking, crowned the top high school team in America. The buzz created positive press not only for Lone Peak but BYU as well, and Mika's freshman year will give him the opportunity to prove that story is worth the hype.
Sport: Women's basketball
Hamson, a dual-sport BYU athlete whose mother also played basketball for the Cougars, recently decided to redshirt in volleyball this season to concentrate on her senior basketball season in 2013-14.
The Pleasant Grove High product will be missed on the volleyball court. In addition to leading the Cougars in 2012 with 458 kills, she also had a team-high 33 service aces and a second-best 141 blocks in 2012.
Hamson has more than proven her value on the basketball court, though, even after missing the early part of the 2012-13 season while wrapping up volleyball play. Last year, she nearly averaged a double-double with 11.2 points — second on the team — and 8.8 rebounds per game. With her size, Hamson also blocked 72 shots, nearly triple the next-best player on the team in that category. She was named to the All-WCC team.
With her decision to concentrate on basketball this year, then volleyball in 2014, Hamson is getting the opportunity to extend her career as one of the most successful Cougar dual-sport athletes.
“It’s definitely a challenge to play two sports at the collegiate level, especially when the seasons overlap,” Hamson told byucougars.com. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to focus on one sport each season my senior year.”
Sport: Men's basketball
Height/weight: 6-foot-2/175 pounds
Position: Point guard
Heading into his third season as a Cougar, Carlino has shown flashes of brilliance that will make him a key cog of this year's men's basketball team.
Last season, Carlino started 32 games and averaged 11.5 points per game (third on the team) and 4.75 assists as the team's starting point guard.
Playing alongside fellow stars Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies — who's now signed a partially guaranteed contract with the L.A. Clippers — Carlino showed he could explode offensively. That included a 10-game stretch during conference play when he reached double-figure scoring in every game.
Another key stretch that shows his potential for the future was the Cougars' four-game postseason NIT run that ended when BYU lost to Baylor in the tournament's semifinals. In NIT play, Carlino averaged 18 points, 8 assists and 6.25 rebounds per contest. More play like this will help take the pressure off Haws the next two seasons.
Height/weight: 6-foot-3/200 pounds
Position: First baseman
A resurgent BYU baseball team nearly made the NCAA Tournament in 2013, and following the season, four Cougars, and one junior college commit, were selected in the MLB draft. Three of those drafted — Jacob Hannemann, Adam Law and Jaycob Brugman — were the team's top three in batting average.
That might make it seem the Cougars' cupboard is bare, but the team will benefit from the return of Whitney, an All-WCC team honoree, for his senior season.
Whitney, who prepped at Bingham High, will be the Cougars' leading returner next season in batting average (.293) of players with 100 or more at-bats. He also had the third-most RBIs (35) for BYU in 2013, and was fourth in runs scored (38).
With other top hitters Dakota Hernandez and Bret Lopez, All-WCC freshman team honoree Hayden Nielsen and pitchers Jeff Barker and Desmond Poulsen all coming back in 2014, the foundation is there for the Cougars to enjoy another solid baseball season.
The softball team will head into its first year in the West Coast Conference in 2014, its fourth conference in four years. While the Cougars haven't had the easiest time finding a league home recently, they will have the consistency of returning their leading hitter next season.
Bravo made a big splash in her freshman season, earning Easton first team All-American honors while batting a team-leading .389 batting average. She was also second on the team in runs scored (35) and RBIs (43).
With fellow All-American JC Clayton graduating, the onus will be on Bravo to carry the Cougar offense in 2014.
Sport: Men's volleyball
Position: Outside hitter
The Sandman has been a force for years on the volleyball court for the Cougars, and he will have one more opportunity to help BYU bring home a national title. The team fell short in the national championship match against UC Irvine last season.
The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year and All-American racked up a team-high 461 kills in 2013, and he became the program's all-time leader in service aces (watch the above video for the record-setting ace). In the national title match, he led the Cougars with 20 kills, three blocks and four digs.
In 2014, BYU will be missing conference freshman of the year Ben Patch, who will be serving an LDS Church mission, but with Sander back, the Cougars should again be a contender for a national championship.
For the Utah Utes, the 2013-14 calendar will be one of validation. The Utes have struggled in their new conference in more sports than just football and basketball. With the notable exceptions of gymnastics and women's basketball, each Utah athletics program has found life in Utah's new home much less hospitable.
That is not to say, however, that the Utes aren't up for the challenge. From the gridiron to the court to the gymnast's vault, a host of Utah athletes are preparing to demonstrate that indeed Utah does deserve to be counted among the best all-around athletics programs in the nation. Some will start play almost immediately as soon as the semester begins. For others, fans will have to wait awhile.
In the meantime, here are 10 key Utah athletes fans of all Ute sports should keep an eye on during the 2013-14 calendar year, including football and men's basketball.
Height/weight: 6 feet/200 pounds
Position: Right-handed pitcher
This Riverton native was honorable mention All-Pac-12 as a sophomore as a vital cog in the Utes' starting rotation. He went 4-4 with a 2.81 ERA and piled up 64 strikeouts as a sophomore.
Watrous tied the school record for strikeouts in a single game in his very first start of the 2013 campaign (12) against the St. Mary's Gaels. He also held the third-ranked Oregon State Beavers to one run on four hits with five K's. Watrous started and won both of Utah's 2013 shutouts.
"Mitch has established himself as one of the premier pitchers in the league," Utah baseball head coach Bill Kinneberg said. "He matched up every weekend with the best guys in the Pac-12. He's a guy we are counting on to lead our staff and to again pitch on Friday nights."
Height: 5 feet
Things were going according to plan for this All-American and reigning Pac-12 all-around champion until she tore her Achilles for the second time on Feb. 1 of this year. The injury ended her season.
To say this Danvers, Mass., native is one of the best gymnasts in the Western United States would be an understatement. She has been Utah's top-scoring all-around gymnast for the two seasons preceding her injury. She is also extraordinarily consistent; she has hit 97 percent of her career routines. Finally, she participates in the student-athletes mentors program, has been Academic All-Pac-12, and has made the dean's list and athletic director's honor roll.
Only time will tell if her Achilles tendon will hold out this upcoming year. If it does, put the rest of the Pac-12 on notice.
Height/weight: 6-foot-3/211 pounds
Position: Wide receiver
The importance of Kenneth Scott to the Utah football team and its receiving corps in particular cannot be understated. Along with Dres Anderson, Scott is the undisputed leader among pass-catchers in the Utah offense.
The 2012 season was not a good one overall for the Utah receivers, partially due to the quarterbacking roller-coaster ride the Utes took in 2012. Scott's best game came against the Utah State Aggies, a contest in which he caught two of his three touchdown passes and tallied 83 receiving yards, a career high. His best Pac-12 game was against Cal.
How Utah and its up-tempo offense fares will in large part be determined by Scott as the receivers will play a magnified role compared to the last two seasons.
"The receivers need to step up," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "The receivers underachieved (in 2012), and they need to make more of a contribution for us."
This Mission Viejo, Calif., native is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection, and she has been a force for Utah softball ever since she showed up. She played in all 56 games of her freshman campaign, starting 53 of them.
Dickman led the Pac-12 in doubles her sophomore year (15). In conference play last season, she finished 10th in the Pac-12 in batting average (.361), tied for first in triples (3), finished fifth in RBIs (24) and total bases (51), sixth in slugging (.708) and seventh in hits (26).
There is no doubt Dickman is among the Pac-12's elite softball players. She will definitely be one to watch as the Utes try to bounce back from last year's sub-.500 season.
Height/weight: 6-foot-10/228 pounds
This Georgia native redshirted for the U. in 2009-10 then went on an LDS mission to England. As Ute basketball fans know well, over the following two seasons, the program imploded. Head coach Jim Boylen was fired. Utah joined the Pac-12.
Expectations went through the floor. Players left Salt Lake City in droves, but not Olsen. He stayed true to his commitment and returned to Salt Lake City.
During the 2012-13 season, Olsen saw limited action, but his opportunities increased as the season went on. A strong defensive presence and a solid rebounder, Olsen is not the most athletic big man, but his finesse moves around the basket often frustrated opponents.
Larry Krystowiak has said he values Olsen's contribution and dedication to the Utes.
“I think it speaks volumes for J.O. and his commitment to come here and come back to the situation he started with,” Krystkowiak said back in January. “I think it’s going to have a great ending here before too long.”
Note: This video was produced in February 2011 following Redd-Brandon's freshman year.
Position: Middle blocker
This Spanish Fork native is a three-year starter and a role model for the other members of her team. One of the top blockers in the Pac-12, Redd-Brandon will be the focal point of the Utah volleyball offense this fall.
During the 2012 season, Redd-Brandon registered a .349 hitting percentage, sufficient for sixth in the Pac-12 and first on her team. She averaged 1.18 blocks per set in conference matches, good enough for ninth place in the Pac-12. She had 10 or more kills in 14 matches last season.
One of Redd-Brandon's best matches of the 2012 season came against Oregon State. In a 3-1 win against the Beavers, she hit a team-high 12 kills on a career-high .706 hitting percentage. Redd-Brandon routinely registered more than 10 kills per match in 2012. She was second on her team in kills per set, second on her team in service aces, and second on her team in blocks per set.
One of the team's undisputed leaders, Redd-Brandon will definitely be a player to watch in 2013-14.
Height/weight: 6-foot-4/240 pounds
Position: Defensive end/linebacker
This Provo native and nephew of Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham is the No. 3 defensive end — the as-of-yet unproven one that no one is talking about.
Listed as the backup to both Nate Orchard on the left end and Trevor Reilly on the left, Whittingham will get many, many reps during the 2013 season. In the up-tempo, fast-paced world of modern college football, the Utes will have to be more than one player deep. The significance of the drop off when Whittingham comes in will determine the success of Utah's defensive line, whether he plays at right or left end.
Whittingham felt pressure to perform at linebacker in 2012, and the linebacking corps turned out to be among the most maligned groups on the whole team. Undoubtedly the pressure is much higher this year.
This Canada native has been a force for the women's team since she got to Salt Lake City. She is half of the Utes' very formidable frontcourt, along with fellow forward Michelle Plouffe.
All-MWC as a freshman, the MWC Freshman of the Year in 2009-10, and All-Pac-12 in her sophomore year, Wicijowski earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention as a junior. She averaged 14.3 points in 32.6 minutes per game during her junior year.
Among her best games was a WNIT contest against the University of San Diego; both she and Plouffe were dominant in the post. Wicijowski put up a game-high 23 points and 7 rebounds in 38 minutes on the floor.
Without a doubt, the Utes stand to make a splash in the Pac-12 following their remarkable run to the WNIT final, and Wicijowski will be an integral part of whatever success they have.
Height/weight: 6-foot-6/230 pounds
Watching Loveridge during the 2012-13 campaign, it was easy to forget the West Jordan native was only a freshman. As the regular season ended, Loveridge was Utah's second-leading scorer, its leading rebounder, and he averaged roughly 30 minutes on the floor per night.
To put that in perspective, Loveridge is in the top six all-time for Utah freshmen for scoring and rebounding, alongside legendary names such as Keith Van Horn, Andrew Bogut and Danny Vranes.
“He’s a talented player,” Utah assistant coach Tommy Connor said in March. “He has a lot to learn, he has a lot to improve upon, and he needs to work hard in this offseason to really take a jump in his game to be an even better player next year. But we’re thrilled to death we have him.”
Whether or not Loveridge will make that jump next season is something fans should definitely watch for.
The 2012 campaign began as one of the best in recent memory. After an early overtime loss to Utah State, Utah rolled up a seven-game unbeaten streak. One of the results was a 1-0 home win against the BYU Cougars, a team that later made it into the late stages of the 2012 NCAA tournament.
That early season success was in large part due to the work of this Kaysville native.
Taylor started 17 of the Utes' 18 matches and led the Utes in points, assists, shots and shots on goal. She scored a dramatic 98th-minute overtime winner against Washington State, assisted the game-winner against Texas and scored against Portland State and Oregon.
An integral part of Utah soccer's attack, Taylor is definitely a Ute footballer to watch this fall.
For the Utah State Aggies, the 2013-14 calendar year will be one of exploration and celebration. Finally after decades of wandering without a suitable home, Aggie athletics has joined the athletic conference to which its peer institutions belong. Every Aggie team and athlete will undoubtedly do its best to demonstrate that it belongs in the Mountain West Conference.
Here are 10 key Utah State athletes fans of all Aggie sports should keep an eye out for during the 2013-14 calendar year, including football and men's basketball.
Height / weight: 6-foot-3 / 195
Position: Wide receiver
Van Leeuwen, a native of Provo and a Timpview High graduate, was among the first of former head coach Gary Andersen's recruits in Logan. Now embarking upon his senior season, he has the opportunity to make a big name for himself in a receiving corps full of question marks.
Van Leeuwen played all 13 games of the 2012 season, but acted principally as a backup to Matt Austin and Chuck Jacobs. Now that both of those players have graduated, Van Leeuwen has been presented with the opportunity to become the undisputed leader of USU's receving corps — the go-to guy when the chips are down and when yards need to be gained.
Sport: Women's basketball
The starting point guard for USU for the 2012-13 season, this native of Mesa, Ariz., was the yin to all-everything guard Devyn Christensen's yang. Now that Christensen has graduated, the door is wide open for Schlott to leave her legacy as a premiere guard in the Aggies' first year as a Mountain West school.
Schlott got as hot as the Valley of the Sun in no time at all as a junior. She scored a career-high 17 points against Boise State in just the fifth game of the year. For her career, Schlott shoots 39.1 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from beyond the arc.
An integral piece in the first and only two 20-plus-win seasons in Aggie women's basketball history, Schlott is definitely a player to watch during the 2013-14 season.
Height / weight: 5-11 / 190
Position: Running back
Hill was not the number one option for the Aggies in 2012, but that doesn't mean that sparks were in short supply when he was on the field. He was a very effective backup option when Kerwynn Williams needed a spell.
This year, Aggie fans will quickly discover whether or not he is up to the task of filling Williams's shoes, both in rushing and receiving. His effectiveness carrying the ball for USU will in large part determine its success on the gridiron for 2013.
Sport: Women's soccer
Other than Jennifer Flynn, no one stood out more on the Aggie women's soccer team than Mari Miyashiro in 2012. A versatile and balanced forward, Miyashiro scored four goals over the course of the season and notched a team-leading six assists as well.
Though Miyashiro may not be USU's premier threat, she is one of its most creative and facilitating players on the pitch. A first-team All-WAC selection in 2012 and an Academic All-WAC selection for 2010, 2011 and 2012, Miyashiro is definitely a player to watch for.
Of Miyashiro and teammates Flynn and Taryn Rose, USU head soccer coach Heather Cairns said, "Those three veteran returning all-conference players are three players who have proven themselves as leaders for us. I have extreme confidence in all of them. We will look toward all of them to be leaders on and off the field, leading us into the tough competition that we will see in our first season in the Mountain West."
Height / weight: 6-2 / 180
Position: Point guard
Nobody knew when the 2012-13 season began how involved Marcel Davis would be, particularly because USU had gone out and recruited Tenale Roland to compete for the starting point guard position as well. It took no time for Davis to take over the reigns of the Aggie backcourt and begin directing traffic. He started the 25 final games of the season for USU.
Davis shot 40 percent from the floor and dished out 3.3 assists per game. At times he struggled, but his decision-making was generally solid. Flashes of brilliance often left Aggie fans wondering what the eventual ceiling on Davis would be.
More than anything, 2013-14 presents an incredible opportunity. As the undisputed starter heading into the new basketball campaign, Davis has the chance to stamp his identity on the team and start an offense that will hopefully lead the Aggies to their 15th consecutive 21-win season.
Sport: Club hockey
Position: Right wing
Those familiar with the USU club hockey program and the large public support it commands should understand why Limb is on this list. Aggie hockey is the third most popular sport in Logan to attend, following only men's basketball and football.
A Salt Lake City native and cousin of L.A. Kings center Trevor Lewis, Limb spent time in Canadian junior hockey before returning to his home state to play for the Aggies.
A very big, physical player, Limb definitely made his presence felt in 2012-13. As a sophomore, he was 13th overall in his league for points, scoring 32 goals and assisting 32 more for 64 points. Not always a vocal leader in years past, Limb has been designated an assistant captain in 2013-14.
According to USU head coach Jon Eccles, Limb's potential is limited only by the amount of work he is willing to put into his game.
"Really it all depends on what kind of effort he wants to put into it," Eccles said. "There aren't many players that can stay with him. This is his year to really, I think, step up and show the league what he's made of and what he has the ability to do. It's not how good he is, it's how good he wants to be."
(In the video, Limb is No. 11)
Position: Opposite side hitter
This Saratoga Springs native and the 2012 WAC Volleyball Freshman of the Year led the 2012 USU volleyball squad in total blocks and in blocks per set. In her first year of NCAA eligibility, she was fourth in the team in total points scored and points per set and was also a major contributor on the opposite side attack.
Brainard, along with Paige Neves, Rachel Orr and Kaitlyn VanHoff, constitute the heart and soul of the Aggie volleyball team. Their contributions were a huge factor in USU's regular season and tournament WAC championships in 2012. Aggie head coach Grayson DuBose said their influence will need to be felt if the Aggies are to be successful in the Mountain West for the 2013 season.
"Those four form a veteran core of leadership and talent for us," he said. "Playing in the Mountain West this season is a big challenge, but I know that these four will be some of our team leaders and will have our team ready to meet that challenge."
Height / weight: 6-foot-6, 205
No one can forget Danny Berger's collapse on the eve of the USU-BYU basketball game. The whole ordeal nearly cost Berger his life. Much less importantly, it postponed the game for four months.
The 2012-13 season was a horrible one for the Aggies' health. Injury, combined with desertion and transfers, left the Aggies extremely shorthanded for extended stretches of the season. At one point during the 2012-13 season, USU was left with three players on its bench rather than the standard seven.
Berger was among the first Aggies to go down for the year. He has since been medically cleared to return to the court for the Aggies; his chest now carries an automatic defibrillator, just in case.
One of USU's most potent threats from deep before his incident, whether or not Berger can once again be an Aggie sharpshooter is yet to be seen, but it will definitely be fun to find out.
Sports: Track and field and volleyball
Position: High jumper and outside hitter
This Thatcher, Ariz., native is tall and can seriously jump. She was the 2012 WAC high jump champion and first team All-WAC in both her sports last season.
A dynamic athlete to say the least, Orr was the second-leading offensive player on the volleyball team. She averaged 2.96 kills and 3.25 points per set. She also had the second highest hitting percentage on the volleyball team.
The fact that Orr still has two seasons remaining before graduation should spark some fear into her opponents in both of her sports.
This Shelley, Idaho, native was the best on the Aggie golf squad for the 2012-13 season. His average score was the lowest on the team, as was his lowest of the year.
Of the 10 competitions in which the Aggies participated, Higham finished first on the team six times, his best overall finish coming in the first event of the spring season at the Pat Hicks Thunderbird Invitational.
An Academic All-WAC selection for last season, Higham will be the player to watch as USU golf tests the new waters of the Mountain West Conference.