BYU senior libero Mark Lake is a body in motion on the volleyball court.
If she’s not sprinting to the end line to save a ball, she’s diving on the floor to keep a play alive. She’s constantly encouraging her teammates and celebrating big points.
But when she’s at her best, Lake is stopped.
“Stopped” is a volleyball term, something Lake learned at an early age. It means getting settled into her stance, ready to read the opponent and react to where the ball will go.
It’s the calm before what will eventually be a storm of activity.
“When they (the opponent) are hitting, you shouldn’t be moving,” Lake said. “If you’re moving even a little bit this way or that way your reaction time is cut down by a lot. So you need to be completely stopped in neutral so that you can react. It’s the best way to play the game. You’re reading but not trying to guess.”
Lake is one of the best in the country at getting stopped and last week against Santa Clara she had 21 digs, allowing her to break the BYU all-time record. She now has 1,815 digs, surpassing former Cougar Ciara Parker’s mark of 1,793.
BYU volleyball posted a video of head coach Heather Olmstead calling Lake up in front of her teammates in the locker room after the win to acknowledge the accomplishment. Lake reacted in her typical humble fashion.
“When it happened (breaking the record) I didn’t think it was a big deal but Heather was really nice to me about celebrating me and congratulating me,” Lake said. “I had a chance to play as a freshman and not a lot of girls get that. I’m been playing with girls who set up a really good block and serve really well so that makes it easy to dig. I was just thinking over the years what great teammates and coaches I’ve had that allowed me to be in this position.
“The record is an awesome thing to have but in the end if I had gotten it or not, it really wouldn’t have mattered. But it’s nice that it worked out that way.”
Lake’s teammates also reacted in typical fashion on the video, cheering and showing how much they appreciate her contribution.
“It just goes to show how much heart and soul she’s put into this program,” Olmstead said. “That’s a lot digs. There’s a lot of scrapes and bruises and a lot of energy put into those digs.
“I’m happy for her and she is just such a big part of what we’re doing with her defense, her passing and her serving. She brings up the level of play of all of her teammates. It was fun to be on the road together and celebrate that accomplishment with her and for her. You could tell in that video her humility knowing that she’s so grateful for the opportunity and she loves her teammates. It’s cool they got to celebrate together.”
Lake set a program record with 547 digs (4.67 per set) as a freshman in 2016. This season, she has 321 digs (3.6 per set). The decrease in the numbers is only because she has fewer opportunities since teams do their best to avoid serving or hitting the ball to her.
She’s similar to the best cornerbacks in football: Teams don’t want to test her.
“Coaches have told me they talk to their team about not wanting to hit or serve the ball to Mary,” Olmstead said. “For sure they aren’t trying to serve to her. If they are, it’s a good day for us. We’re trying to put her in the best places where the most balls go. She does a good job whether she’s in the left back, center back or right back positions. She’s able to adapt and adjust and do her job.”
Lake — who spent the summer playing with the U.S. National Team — said she reads the game better now and has learned over her career that every touch, every dig and every point matters.
“It’s interesting looking back on my little freshman self,” she said. “I was really excited and kind of spastic. Now I’m not as spastic but just as excited.”
BYU (22-3 overall, 13-1 WCC) is ranked No. 10 in the latest AVCA poll and has a huge match on Friday at No. 24 San Diego (20-5, 13-1). The Toreros are the only team to beat the Cougars in league play, sneaking out of Provo with a 3-2 victory on Oct. 18.
“The fact that they were able to get themselves in this positon, to have a big time match this time of year on the road, we need it,” Olmstead said. “We need it to see where we’re at and we need it for continued growth and success. We just had a great weekend last week on the road and this is just one more step toward what we want to do and our goals. It’s a really good opportunity against a really good opponent. We’re fired up to play.”