Volleyball • Cougar women, in Top 25 for the first time since 2007, face in-state rival Utah on Friday night.
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For BYU's undefeated women's volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead, his team's first top-25 ranking since 2007 could not have come at a worse time.
Happy for his players, Olmstead would have preferred to remain under the radar, as if that would have been realistic after two victories against top-25 teams this past weekend.
"I prefer that it didn't happen," Olmstead said Tuesday about his 6-0 Cougars' No. 21 ranking in the AVCA Coaches' Poll. "But the girls have worked hard, and they deserve it.
"It's a blessing and a curse."
Especially this weekend, when Utah travels to Provo for a 7 p.m. Friday match in the Smith Fieldhouse to begin the BYU Invitational. Portland State and Bowling Green are also competing with matches beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday between Utah and PSU. BYU and Bowling Green follow at noon.
Also on Saturday, the Utes and the Falcons are scheduled for 5 p.m., followed by BYU and Portland State at 7 p.m.
"Now it adds a whole other dimension to a rivalry game," Olmstead said.
Although BYU dominated Utah (6-2) in Salt Lake City last year, the motivated Utes have not lost in Provo since Nov. 9, 2007.
A young team with just two seniors, the Cougars knocked off No. 14 Tennessee and No. 24 Colorado State. In each match, BYU lost the first game and swept the next three.
BYU's 6-foot-7 opposite Jennifer Hamson has, rightfully, drawn much of the attention. The junior has 98 kills and a .386 hitting percentage. Freshman Alexa Gray, with 20 kills against Wichita State, and junior Jessica Jardine (67 kills) add another dimension to the Cougars' attack. The one question mark coming into 2012 was at libero. Projected starter Kendalyn Hartsock followed her husband, Noah, to Belgium for him to play professional basketball. Freshman Ciara Parker has so far filled the bill.
"We're back in the gym today," Olmstead said. "We're getting ready."