In her 28th season with the University of Utah volleyball team, head coach Beth Launiere, who was 26 years old when she took over the program, has taken a one-win team in 1989 and helped turn things around. On Friday, Dec. 8, Utah will make its first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2008.
“Its been a lot of hard work through the years,” Launiere said. “Its been a story of a tremendous amount of players that have come through this program. I feel that we’ve always had great support from the administration at the University of Utah to be successful.”
In 1990, Launiere guided the team to a 7-21 record. Two years later, Utah had its first winning season after finishing 18-15 overall. With Launiere at the helm, it took eight years to get the program to its first NCAA appearance, but since then, the Utes have been 13 times.
Moving into the Pac-12 was a difficult switch for the Utes as they left the Mountain West. In their first year in the league, they had a ninth place finish. Slowly, but surely, things improved overtime. Utah went on to finish seventh, then fifth and this year, fourth.
“You have hopes and dreams and goals when you’re young, and I had no idea it was going to take us eight years to get to the first NCAA tournament when I first got here,” Launiere said. “It was a small, slow build, but that’s how I wanted to do it. I didn’t come here to do it overnight and then leave. I came here to build a program and it took a lot of people to go into that. I was young. I was competitive. I didn’t know any better.”
While Launiere was focused on building a competitive program, she was also battling Crohn’s disease. She recalls being in the hospital one day, and coaching volleyball the next day. But never once has she let it define who she is, and she has learned to balance work and life. Raising awareness about this topic is something she finds important to do and she does so by speaking about the disease to others.
“I think the biggest thing is that you can be a successful professional or you can be an athlete when you’re young, or you can be whatever you want to be even with a chronic illness,” Launiere said.
Launiere played softball and volleyball in college, but as she described it, the world works in mysterious ways and all her opportunities early on in her career led her to stick with volleyball. She was a middle blocker in college and senior Tawnee Luafalemana, who is also a middle blocker, describes her coach as technical, but in a positive way.
“The small things are the biggest things,” Luafalemana said. “It’s like fix this little thing and it changes the whole game after. … Her coaching the middles on footwork is amazing as well.”
Lufalemana believes her ability to keep a competitive mindset is something she has learned from Launiere and the success she has had over the years.
“She mentions a lot about championship mentality and making lifelong relationships while you’re in college,” Lufalemana said. “I believe in that 1000 percent … I think she does a really good job at making the players feel welcomed.”
Every year is different for Launiere and she loves that. Even if it’s only one player that leaves after the season is over, the whole dynamic of the team can change. Taking a group of athletes and watching them turn into friends and teammates is what keeps her coming back.