Tawnee Luafalemana (20) hits the ball during the Utah Women's Volleyball Red vs. White Scrimmage at the U Hunstman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (Dr. Rishi Deka | Daily Utah Chronicle)

School is back in session, which means it’s time for the University of Utah volleyball team to open up its 2017 regular season this weekend with the Bluegrass Battle in Lexington, Kentucky. The Utes will visit Memorial Coliseum to take on Cincinnati at 11 a.m. MT on Friday, Aug. 25 and No. 14 ranked Kentucky that same evening at 7 p.m. MT.  They’ll wrap up their tournament the following day against Arkansas State at 3 p.m. MT.

“We have some big goals this year,” said senior Adora Anae. “Right off the bat we want to accomplish [the first goal] by taking Cincinnati first, and then we obviously want to win all of them. But right now, we’re just focusing on being prepared by putting in all the necessary preparation so we can take this tournament just as serious as all the future ones.”

Utah is not only hoping for positive results this weekend, but it is looking to strengthen its team in the process.

“This weekend is a lot more about us,” said head coach Beth Launiere. “We’re hoping to come out unscathed, and win every match. But ultimately it’s about us. We’re hoping to find answers to the questions we have and figure what works best for us. That’s what all these tournaments are for leading up to Pac-12 play. We’re still scouting out the teams and coming up with plans, but ultimately this weekend is about finding out where we are at.”

Seniors Tawnee Luafalemana and Carly Trueman will be the only two returning seniors along with Anae this season. As upperclassmen, they’ll be looked upon as examples for the team that has eight new faces. Anae and Luafalemana were both named to the All-Pac-12 Team last season, and for the second time in as many years, Anae was most recently named to the All-Pac-12 Preseason team.

While these accomplishments speak for themselves about what kind of student-athlete Anae is, she isn’t letting the success that she’s earned get in the way of where she is headed.

“Being named to that just means that I need to work harder to prove my standing,” Anae said. “It’s a good award, and it just motivates me to do better, and to think about my team and our end goal.”

Utah had the opportunity to build on its chemistry in the offseason with a trip to Europe. Having that time with the team to be able to participate in a trip like that and gain experience gave Launiere optimism heading into the new season.

“I like the experience of our returners, and I like our new comers,” Launiere said. “I like this team. I thought we really came together well in the preseason. We have some very focused and driven players, and I’m looking forward to all they can accomplish.”

The Utes begin the year ranked No. 23 in the nation in the top-25 preseason poll, and they have received their highest preseason Pac-12 ranking and are predicted to finish fourth in the Pac-12 behind Washington, Stanford and Oregon.

“I think it shows respect for the work that we have been doing in building this program,” Launiere said. “We’re returning some great seniors and juniors that have started their whole career, and we have a nice recruiting class. I think it shows us a lot of respect.”

s.funk@dailyutahchronicle.com

@scottfunk0

Scott Funk is currently interning as a sports writer for The Daily Utah Chronicle. He completed an internship with Cumulus Media before writing for The Globe at Salt Lake Community College. He also recently completed an internship with ESPN 700.

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