Netters Win Utah Classic

By and

Going into its first weekend of the 2002 regular season, the U volleyball team had one goal in mind, and it came away with exactly that goal: a weekend sweep and a first-place finish at the Utah Classic.

The Utes saw their first action Friday night against the New Hampshire Wildcats, who started their season as the top-ranked team in the America East preseason poll.

Both teams battled first-game jitters and played a competitive match, which the Utes eventually won in three straight.

The Ute women swept their second opponent the following afternoon, defeating Murray State.

Utah started out a bit sluggish against the Racers, falling behind 23-26 in the first game. But following a timeout, they reeled off five straight points en route to a 30-27 win. That proved to be the turning point, as they didn’t have too much trouble beyond the first game, winning 30-19 in Game 2 before a dominating 30-6 win in the third and final game.

But, without a doubt, Utah’s biggest test came in the final match of the weekend against the 12th-ranked Pacific Tigers?and the Utes passed with flying colors.

The teams went the distance, playing five close, grueling games. Momentum shifted often, as there was a total of 17 lead changes.

Pacific took an early lead, winning the first game 30-26. But Utah came back, winning the next two before finally closing the Tigers out in the fifth-set tiebreaker by a score of 15-9.

In the end, it was an impressive weekend for the Mountain West’s top-ranked volleyball team. Four Utes highlighted the All-Tournament team, including Kelsie Kartchner, Sylva Strzinkova, Jackie Morrill and tournament Most Valuable Player awardee Kim Turner.

Such a successful weekend firmly establishes the Utes as one of the best teams around and warrants their high preseason ranking, especially their victory over Pacific.

“Overall, I was pleased with our performance,” head coach Beth Launiere said. “Beating Pacific is huge. You know, the season is long, but wins like this make a difference. All of these games matter. It’s definitely something to build on. “

Players and coaches alike seemed happy with the team’s play this weekend, but they admit they are a long way from midseason form. There are still plenty of kinks to work out, especially on the offensive side. But there’s no doubt that it was a strong start to the new season.

“We really focused on this weekend,” said Turner, who also earned the Mountain West Volleyball Player of the Week award for the fifth time in her career. “I think we already improved from our first game against New Hampshire.”

“I think we were awesome,” added Strzinkova. “It took all of our players to get this win and we really established ourselves.”

With three wins already under their belts, the Utes’ focus will be continuing to improve and getting back to the level of play they had at the end of last season.

“I feel like we’re more experienced than last season,” Launiere said. “Right now there is a lot in place to get better with. I learned a lot about my team this weekend.”

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