The constant drumbeat of possible Big 12 expansion has ruled summer gossip for BYU fans and most of the discussion has been about football and men’s basketball.
But here’s a new QOD (question of the day) to ponder: How would BYU’s “other” sports programs fair in the Big 12?
There would surely be some teams which could step in and be competitive right away — think women’s volleyball, soccer and softball, and likely cross country and track and field — and others that would need a few years to adjust.
Right now, the Cougars are dominating the West Coast Conference.
BYU won the league’s Commissioner’s Cup for the fourth straight year in 2015-16 by 21 points (109-88) over runner-up Saint Mary’s. The BYU men and women each won their respective all-sports trophies, with the Cougar women claiming five titles and sharing a sixth. BYU outdistanced Santa Clara by seven points (65-58). The Cougar men — without points from sports that don’t compete in the WCC such as football and men’s volleyball – edged Saint Mary’s by just 1.5 points (44 to 42.5).
Here’s a look at what happened at BYU during the 2015-16 sports year.
Record: 9-4 overall
Quick Review: No Jamaal Williams (withdrew from school) or Taysom Hill (season-ending injury in opener); Hail Marys vs. Nebraska and Boise State to open 2-0; The emergence of freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum; A 38-0 loss at Michigan; Earning an 11th straight bowl berth; Falling behind Utah 35-0 in the first quarter of the Las Vegas Bowl then rallying before losing 35-28.
Next Year’s Headlines: With Williams and Hill back, a brand new coaching staff led by former Cougars Kalani Sitake and Ty Detmer and a powerhouse schedule, fans are optimistic BYU football can reach new heights.
Record: 28-4 overall, 16-2 WCC (1st)
Quick Review: Senior Alexa Gray becomes BYU’s all-time leader in kills in the rally scoring era (1,848); Won the WCC title in Heather Olmstead’s first year as head coach; Hosted first two rounds of NCAA Tournament; Fell 3-0 to Nebraska — the eventual national champion — in the Elite 8.
Next Year’s Headlines: Gray, all-time digs leader Ciara Parker and steady setter Camry Willardson have all exhausted their eligibility. Two of the West’s top middle blockers — Amy Boswell and Whitney Howard — return along with the addition of the country’s No. 11 recruiting class according to PrepVolleyball.com.
Men’s Cross Country
Quick Review: Ranked as high as No. 4 in the national polls; Won third WCC championship in five seasons; Finished 12th at NCAA Championships.
Next Year’s Headlines: The Cougars finished in the Top 20 nationally for the eighth consecutive season under Ed Eyestone and return five of its top seven runners, including seniors Aaron Fletcher (81st at nationals) and Dylan Shawhan.
Women’s Cross Country
Quick Review: Ranked as high as 14th in the country; Finished second at the WCC championships in a tiebreaker with Gonzaga, fourth at Regionals and 23rd at nationals; Some bad luck at nationals, where top runner Natalie Shields-Connolly lost a shoe half a mile into the 6K race and finished without it. In addition, Jennica Redd took ill when the team arrived in Louisville.
Next Year’s Headlines: Team leaders Redd and Carrie Jube have completed their careers, so a large freshmen class from 2015 will need to step up for head coach Patrick Shane.
Record: 16-3-2 overall, 7-1-1 WCC (1st)
Quick Review: Injuries kept high-scoring Ashley Hatch out of eight matches; Won WCC title for fourth straight season; Set program record for fewest goals allowed; Two close losses to Stanford, including a 2-1 defeat in the second round of the NCAA Tournament; Led the nation in attendance (3,497).
Next Year’s Headlines: Hatch should be healthy for her senior year. WCC Player of the Year Nadia Gomes and WCC Goalkeeper of the Year Rachel Boaz both return, along with most of the starters from 2015. Expectations will again be very high for Jennifer Rockwood’s Cougars.
Record: 26-11 overall, 13-5 WCC (3rd)
Quick Review: Kyle Collinsworth won the WCC’s Player of the Year and added six more triple-doubles to finish with NCAA record 12; Lost to Utah again; BYU defeated Gonzaga in Spokane for the second straight season; Puzzling losses to Harvard, Portland and Pacific hurt BYU’s NCAA chances; Made a three-game run through the NIT to reach the semifinals; Lost 72-70 to Valparaiso in semis at Madison Square Garden.
Next Year’s Headlines: The “Lone Peak 3” — Eric Mika, Nick Emery and T.J. Haws — are finally back together on Dave Rose’s youngest team and the long-awaited new practice facility opens in November. Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are loaded again, so the climb will be difficult.
Record: 26-7 overall, 16-2 WCC (1st)
Quick Review: Lexi Eaton Rydalch won the WCC’s Player of the Year and became all-time leading scorer in league history; A three-game sweep at the Tom Weston Classic in Hawaii included a win against No. 11 Texas A&M; Won 16 straight WCC games; Rydalch’s half-court heave at the buzzer beat San Francisco but the Dons earned their revenge with an upset in the WCC Tournament title game; Cougars lost to Missouri in NCAA first round.
Next Year’s Headlines: Rydalch has finished her illustrious college career, but New Zealand import Kalani Purcell — the most versatile player in the WCC — returns along with defensive ball hawk Makenzi Pulsipher.
Quick Review: The Cougars competed in NCAA Regionals for seventh straight year and 25th year out of the past 28; Makenzie Johnson Halliday was named Mountain Rim Gymnastic Conference Gymnast of the Year.
Next Year’s Headlines: The Cougars finished the 2016 season ranked No. 34 in the country under first-year coach Guard Young, who was able to fill out his staff with Brogen Evanson and Natalie Broekman. The young team — 12 of the 17 athletes were underclassmen — is hoping a summer of hard work will pay off.
Swimming and Diving
Quick Review: The men won the MPSF for the third year in a row and the women placed fourth; Jake Taylor led the No. 21 men’s team with two first team All-American honors (100 and 200 yard backstroke) and was second team All-American in the 200 individual medley; Anna Dahl had four first place finishes at the MPSF meet and set a new school record in the 100 breaststroke.
Next Year’s Headlines: Returned missionary Payton Sorensen was second-team All-American in the 50 free and broke the school record in that event. For the women, freshman Ellie Thornbrue had an outstanding season with eight first-place finishes and All-MPSF performances in the 500 free and 100 fly.
Record: 37-17 overall, 18-9 WCC (1st-tie)
Quick Review: Cougars opened the season 23-3 and broke into the Top 20 in the national polls but injuries to the pitching staff led to a 14-14 finish; Pitcher Michael Rucker started 11-0; Keaton Kringlen (.369 batting average) was named WCC Freshman of the Year; Outfielder Brennon Lund (.387) was named first team All-WCC; Cougars lost both games in the WCC Tourney and were eliminated.
Next Year’s Headlines: Rucker and Lund were both selected in the major league baseball draft and will continue their careers as pros, so Mike Littlewood will be challenged to continue to build the program. The return of talented outfielder Kyle Dean from injury will help.
Record: 36-21 overall, 12-3 WCC (1st)
Quick Review: BYU won an eighth consecutive conference title and earned a 12th straight trip to the NCAA tournament; Ashley Thompson was named WCC Player of the Year, McKenna Bull WCC Pitcher of the Year, Lauren Bell WCC Defensive Player of the Year and Gordon Eakin WCC Co-Coach of the Year; For the third straight season BYU went 1-2 at the NCAA Tournament.
Next Year’s Headlines: Thompson and Bull both return for Eakin in 2016 and the Cougars hope to break through beyond the first weekend in the NCAA Tournament.
Track and Field
Quick Review: Shaquille Walker and Shea Martinez-Collinsworth each earned third place finishes in the 800 meters at the NCAA Championships and will compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials in July; Zach Blackham (high jump), Aaron Fletcher (steeplechase), Chase Horrocks (1500 meters), Connor McMillan (10,000 meters) and Jesse White (400 meters) were second team All-Americans.
Next Year’s Headlines: Martinez-Collinsworth comes back for her senior season while Walker has had offers to turn pro. If he returns to BYU, the two athletes will be favorites to challenge for an NCAA championship.
Record: 27-4 overall, 19-3 MPSF (1st)
Quick Review: In Shawn Olmstead’s first year as head coach BYU won the MPSF regular-season title and hosted MPSF Tournament for third time in past four seasons; Won in 3-0 sweeps 11 matches in a row to set program record during regular season; Beat UCLA twice in Los Angeles for the first time; Earned the No. 1 seed in NCAA’s and defeated Long Beach State 3-1 in the semifinals; The Cougars couldn’t withstand Ohio State’s service pressure and fell 3-0 in the national finals at Penn State.
Next Year’s Headlines: Most of the team returns for Shawn Olmstead in 2017. Brenden Sander, Jake Langlois and Ben Patch are getting valuable experience this summer with various U.S. national teams. The Cougars got a big boost with the addition of Finnish middle blocker Miki Jauhiainen.
Quick Review: Austen Christiansen won medalist honors at the PING Cougar Classic and BYU won the team title; Patrick Fishburn finished tied for 53rd place at NCAA’s and was All-WCC first team.
Next Year’s Headlines: BYU had only one senior on its roster and seven underclassmen, including Fishburn, who is a sophomore.
Quick Review: After nine-year absence the Cougars earned a trip back to the NCAA Championships and were ranked No. 18 at one point in the season; A clutch 8-foot putt by Lea Garner on the 18th hole ultimately helped send BYU to NCAA’s; BYU was sixth at Regional in Baton Rouge; The NCAA altered tournament play for BYU to not play on Sunday; Cougars ended up 24th at NCAA’s in Eugene.
Next Year’s Headlines: Kendra Dalton, Alexandra White and Brooklyn Hocker all return for head coach Carrie Roberts in 2016-17.
Cougars were No. 1 most of the season and advanced to the Varsity Cup, playing in their sixth straight national championship final. BYU had won four straight titles and led Cal by 10 points with 12 minutes to play, but the Bears rallied to claim a 40-29 victory and the national title.
BYU made a surprise appearance in D1 national championship match but lost 15-5 to Penn State. It was the program’s first trip to the finals.
BYU lost to Georgia Tech 7-5 in MCLA quarterfinals but had some outstanding individual performances. A pair of freshmen — Chris Severson (41 goals) and Winston Farley (33) — combined to score 74 goals. Max Neser earned first team All-American honors and the Cougars finished the season ranked No. 6 in the final polls.
Long-time assistant Brandon Gilliam took over for Chris Watkins in 2016 to begin a new era in BYU men’s soccer, which plays in the Premier Development League.