Volleyball gets on track, wins Utah Classic

By Mathew Ouellette and Chris Bellamy

The U volleyball team came into the weekend in dire need of a jump-start to its season.

Finally back in the comfort zone of Crimson Court, the Utes (4-2) got just that Friday and Saturday-and got it in a big way.

Hosting the annual Utah Classic, the team toppled all three of its weekend opponents, winning the tournament once again on its home floor.

With wins over Washington State, Utah Valley State College and No. 18 Missouri, the Utes finally started looking like the team that many expect to win the Mountain West Conference.

The tournament kicked off Friday night as the Utes took on the Washington State Cougars, who had similarly begun their promising season on a disappointing note.

Both teams came in looking to turn their seasons around before things got any uglier-and in a hotly contested five-set battle, the Utes prevailed.

Utah won the first game 3027, but the Cougs came back with a vengeance and put the pressure squarely on the Utes, winning the second and third games of the match to put Utah on ice.

But the Utes survived by the skin of their teeth. In game four, Washington State pushed Utah to four game points before the U finally pulled it out 34-32.

The fifth and deciding game was all Utes, as they topped WSU 15-7 to take the game.

Thanks in large part to senior Kim Turner’s triple double (15 kills, 15 digs, 11 blocks) and the continued emergence of sophomore Shelly Sommerfeldt (16 kills), the team got a little bit back on track and evened up its season record at 2-2.

“We’re really up and down now, but when we steady up, we’ll be really good,” head coach Beth Launiere said. “But, a win is a win. I don’t care if it’s ugly, so long as we identify what we need to work on and move forward.”

The team did just that the following afternoon when it took on in-state foe UVSC, who came into the weekend tourney at just 1-3.

Utah proved it had indeed identified some weaknesses, as the Utes controlled the match from start to finish, sweeping the Wolverines 30-19, 30-20 and 30-21 to move above .500 for the first time this year.

Turner, who was named the Utah Classic MVP at the close of the weekend, led the way once again, notching 12 kills, eight digs and six blocks.

But the real highlight of the Utes’ weekend came later Saturday night when they took on No. 18 Missouri, who jumped out to a 5-0 early-season start, including wins in the Tigers’ first two matches of the weekend tourney.

The Tigers came into the match cool and confident-and who wouldn’t be after an undefeated start?

But the Utes proved they were worth the hype, dominating the Tigers for their second consecutive sweep (30-26, 30-21, 30-28) that sealed the team’s tourney title.

Finally, the Utes seemed to be firing on all cylinders. Turner was impeccable, finishing with 12 kills and a .579 hitting percentage.

Sommerfeldt looked strong on the offensive side once again with 13 kills.

Along with Turner and senior libero Jackie Morrill, Sommerfeldt was named to the All-Tournament Team.

“It was a big match offensively for us. We’ve just been struggling and haven’t been able to put it together,” Launiere said.

The rest of the weekend certainly helped the Utes prepare for their meeting with the Tigers.

“The match against Utah Valley helped, just because it wasn’t so stressful, so we were able to work on some things and gain more confidence,” Launiere said. “I think that carried over. That was a good match against a good Missouri team. I’m surprised that we handled them as easily as we did. But we played really good volleyball.”

Now standing at 4-2, the Utes may be on their way to looking like the team everyone expected. Wins over teams as strong as Missouri will certainly help.

Next week, the Utes will have their hands full for the third-straight weekend as they travel to South Bend, Ind., to take on South Carolina and No. 21 Notre Dame.

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