Their season came to an end on Friday night as the No. 13 ranked University of Utah volleyball team (24-10, 13-7 Pac-12) lost a five set match to the No. 2 ranked Texas Longhorns in the NCAA Regional semifinal round. Utah was able to force the Longhorn’s to have to play five sets. It was something many weren’t expecting and a situation the Longhorns hadn’t been in since Nov. 1, 2017.
“I don’t know how many people believed that we could win the match,” said head coach Beth Launiere. “But we certainly did. I thought we laid everything we had out there for sure.”
At first it appeared that it might be a quick win in favor of the Longhorns after they dominated the first set with a 25-19 victory, but the Utes were able to gain momentum and get in control of the match in the second set. After blocks by Luafalemana and Kenzie Koerber, the Longhorns called a timeout before Utah won, 25-16.
The Utes finished the night with four players in double digit kills. Adora Anae had 25 kills, Carly Trueman chipped in 13, Berkeley Oblad added 12 and Tawnee Luafalemana had 10 of her own. It was an entire team effort in the Utes loss.
“Our team has been fighting from the start,” Anae said. “We went into the locker room and made a momentum switch. We came into the second set after losing the first set with a mentality of just get some kills on all sides of the net, and we did that.”
In the third frame the Utes led 15-13 at the first media timeout of the set. After a 3-0 run by the Utes, the Longhorns called a timeout. The match was eventually tied at 24-24, and kills from Koerber and Dani Barton gave Utah the 26-24 victory and a 2-1 lead.
What started off as a dominating fourth set performance by the Longhorns was slowly put out as Utah went on a 5-1 run after Oblad had back-to-back kills. However, the strength of the Longhorns was too much for Utah who dropped the set, 25-21.
All week long leading up to the match, the Utes used three men to practice and prepare for the strength and size of Texas who came into the match as the leading blocking team in the nation. The Utes were able to limit the amount of blocks from the Longhorns, while adding their own blocks to that category as well. Texas finished with eight blocks and Utah put up seven.
“They were huge,” Anae said. “But we had to find a way around them and through them. Personally, I just wanted to give it my all and not let the block phase me. We’ve been there before. We had Pac-12 experience from all aspects of the game.”
The fifth set proved to be another thriller for both teams. The Longhorns went up 4-1 before the Utes called a timeout. Launiere reminded her team that passing was key and to relax because it had been in situations similar to these before. Back and fourth volleyball ensued to tie the game at 14-14, but Texas went on to win the next two points to win the set 16-14 and the match, 3-2.
“I’m just proud of this team as a whole. We fought,” Anae said. “There was a bunch of randomness in the fifth set. They won 16-14 and they won the coin toss. I just can’t say much about it, but this game was a fight.”