Volleyball Smokes Lobos; Will Face BYU

It wasn’t as much of a match as it was a glorified practice Thursday night when the University of Utah volleyball team blew the New Mexico Lobos out of the gym, 30-15, 30-16, 30-19. The win advances the Utes to the Mountain West Conference Tournament semi-finals for the third straight time to face rival BYU.

“The Utes played as well as I have ever seen them play and they completely took us out of our game,” said Lobos coach Tom Peterson. Utah had an answer for just about every attack the Lobos sent their way.

The New Mexico strategy was simple. “We felt they were vulnerable on the outside, so that’s where we concentrated our attack,” Peterson said.

However, the strategy was not disguised well enough to stop the Utes from dominating the net. Senior middle blocker Adrianne Bradley-Drake had 5.5 total blocks, while fellow senior McKelle Stilson totaled 4.5 total blocks.

“We knew they were going to set to the outside and that is why we had so many blocks,” said junior Sylva Strzinkov.

Utah recorded 19.5 total team blocks to New Mexico’s 4.0.

“We couldn’t get very good passes, and the coaches just told us to hit the ball,” said Lobo outside hitter Malena Thompson.

The hapless Lobos blundered their way to a killing percentage of -.075. Thompson was the only player to dent the Ute defense. She had 9 kills and an attack percentage of .125.

Anna Reines looked helpless as she totaled 9 kills, but had a horrible attack percentage of .188.

The Utah setters had any easy job of handing out the kills, as they had an array of players to choose from. The offense had an outstanding attack percentage of .386. Strzinkov led with a match high 14 kills. She also had an attack percentage of .600.

Stilson has been the most consistent hitter for the Utes this year, and did not waver off that wavelength. She had a match-high attack percentage of .636.

The win marks the sixth straight season the Utes have won 20 games. The women increased their record to 20-5 overall, and 11-3 in conference play.

“I was very pleased the way our team played and we are playing with a very good focus,” Ute coach Beth Launiere said.

The focus will have to carry on tomorrow night, as Utah will face the Cougars for the third time this season. The two teams split the season series and the Cougs swept the Utes the last time Utah traveled down to Provo.

“We have broke so many barriers this season. Our team has played completely different since we lost our first conference game here,” Ute middle blocker Kim Turner said.

Since the BYU loss Sept. 20, Utah has won 16 of their past 18 matches, including wins over the Cougs and Colorado State.

“Our team had been able to trust each other a lot more after we won those matches, and have gotten better because of it,” Stilson said.

BYU has not played their best volleyball the past couple of weeks. The Cougars lost consecutive home matches to Utah State and Colorado State, along with a surprising loss at UNLV.

However, senior All-American Nina Puikkonen garnered last week’s MWC Player of the Week award, and Sunny Mahe will provide a tough attack for the Utes to defend.

“It’s Utah and BYU and everyone knows how big this game is, especially in the wake of the football game,” Launiere said.

After a easy win against New Mexico, Utah should be refreshed and ready to beat the Cougars a second time. The semi-final game tonight is at 7. at BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse.

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