After a recent BYU women’s volleyball win, Whitney Bower — starting freshman setter for the 11th-ranked Cougars — stood on Elaine Michaelis Court and pointed into the stands of the Smith Fieldhouse to identify where she watched BYU’s amazing 2018 NCAA Tournament run.

“I was sitting right there,” she said, a hint of wonder and awe in her voice. “It gives me chills every time I think about it.”

Bower didn’t miss a single match in the Fieldhouse as the Cougars rolled past Stony Brook, Utah, Florida and Texas to earn a spot in the national semifinals.

“This is what I tell everyone,” Bower said. “This team just went to the Final Four and I’m looking at that. They played so amazing. Heather Gneiting was the freshman Player of the Year, Heather Olmstead got Coach of the Year, and I’m like, ‘Why would I not want to go and play with them?’ If I have this shot and this opportunity, then absolutely. I just felt like the opportunity was right there.”

Bower — a high school All-American from Idaho — had already committed to play for BYU in 2020. She planned to play her senior year with her younger sister, Eden, at Skyview High School in Nampa while older sister Morgan joined the BYU team in January.

Plans change.

Whitney Bower opted to become the first player in BYU program history to forgo her senior year. She took hours of online classes this spring and summer with the intent of joining the Cougars for preseason camp in August at the tender age of 17.

“I felt like I had no social life,” Whitney Bower said. “But it was OK because my most important priorities are volleyball and school. It was a lot about time management. I learned how to do that. It’s really helped me with college so I could learn how to set aside and do the important things first.”

Bower won the starting setter job and has been a fixture there. Through 23 matches for the 11th-ranked Cougars, Bower is averaging 9.72 assists per set for an offense hitting .274. She leads the team with 35 service aces and is second in digs per set (2.46).

“Whitney is so composed for how young and inexperienced she is in the collegiate game,” Olmstead said. “Serving is a strength for her and defensively she’s getting more confident in the back row and digging a lot of balls for us. Whitney has inspired other people to play better floor defense as well. Her ability to make good decisions and set the right people at the right time, she’s continuing to develop that.”

Bower was terrific during an early season stretch that saw the Cougars knock of then-No. 17 Utah in Salt Lake City and just two days later upset No. 2 Stanford in four sets in Palo Alto.

“That was pretty insane,” Bower said. “It was kind of crazy, playing against these girls I’ve watched for years. It was a real surreal experience. But the whole team helped me keep things in perspective. We were just focused.”

Bower is the one of seven daughters of former BYU athletes Danny Bower (basketball, 1998-99) and Caroline Steuer Bower (volleyball, 1996-99). Whitney’s experience so far in Provo has exceeded her wildest dreams.

“It’s been more than I expected,” she said. “It’s been so cool playing with Mary (Lake), McKenna (Miller), Kennedy (Eschenberg) and everyone. It’s just been amazing. The culture here makes me think of family. The fans are so supportive and I’m so lucky to have my sister Morgan here.”

The Cougars are 20-3 overall and tied for the lead the West Coast Conference at 11-1 heading into this week’s matches on the road at Santa Clara and San Francisco. A big rematch at San Diego — the Toreros are the only blemish on BYU’s conference record this season — is looming for the following week.

“I think we have a shot to compete with the best of the best,” Bower said. “We have the most amazing coach and our players are so amazing right now. I think we have a shot to accomplish something great.”

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter

@darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

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