Tourney time

Coming off their best regular season ever, the No. 19 Ute spikers will try to parlay that accomplishment into post-season success.

Thursday at 11 a.m., the Utes (21-4) have their first match of the MWC tournament. The U won a coin toss with fellow co-champion Colorado State, and are the tourney’s top seed.

In the MWC tournament history, the top-seeded team has reached the finals four out of five years.

First, and hopefully not last, up for the Utes is the Air Force Academy. The Falcons finished the regular season 4-20, finishing the season on a 16-match losing streak. Utah dispatched the academy twice in the regular season, and has never lost a match to them, going 14-0 over the course of the rivalry. This will be the first time the two teams have met in the post-season.

While Utah enters the tournament the favorite, coach Beth Launiere isn’t taking anything for granted. “We have a lot of season left,” Launiere said. “We have to put ourselves in a good position.”

Statistically, Utah is already in a good position. The Utes sport several conference standouts that cover the gamut of positions.

Middle blocker Lyndsey Henderson lived up to her preseason hype, finishing her senior regular season with impressive stats.

The Orem native is second in conference with 1.79 blocks per game, also good for sixth in the nation. Her 3.76 kills per game place her second in the MWC, and she is third in hitting percentage (.373) and service aces (.31).

Deemed one of the rising stars coming into 2004, sophomore libero Connie Dangerfield has already surged to the top of her field. She finished the regular season top in the MWC in digs (4.29) and her 390 digs place her third on the Utah single-season digs list. She is one behind former Ute Jackie Morrill, who had 391 last season.

Senior setter Tracy Neumeier has emerged as an all-around threat. Her .30 service aces per game is good for fourth in conference. She is eighth in the MWC in assists (6.57) and No. 15 in digs (2.21).

As a team, Utah is the paramount conference team when it comes to defense.

The Utes are tops in opponent hitting percentage (.135) and opponent service aces (1.76). They rank second in blocks (3.28) and digs (14.93)

On team offense, Utah is no slouch, either. They rank fourth in hitting (.242), fifth in kills (15.23) and fifth in assists (13.77).

If the Utes defeat the Falcons on Thursday, they will play the winner of the UNLV-Wyoming match on Friday.

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