Home for the postseason: Volleyball kicks off NCAA tournament tonight at Crimson Court

The Ute volleyball team (22-8) got a pleasant surprise when it found out it would get to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Now the Utes get the chance to take advantage of having the home-court advantage. Friday night, the Utes will welcome Loyola Marymount (19-10) to Crimson Court at 8 p.m. and will try to continue the momentum they have after winning the MWC tournament last weekend.

“I think we responded pretty well to the (MWC) championship in terms of just moving on,” Ute head coach Beth Launiere said. “Right away we started paying attention to the NCAAs, and we’ve had good practices, so that’s encouraging to me.”

The Utes surprised the rest of the league by only dropping one game throughout the three-match MWC tournament, giving the team a boost to its collective psyche, especially valuable for a team that regularly plays four freshmen and several sophomores.

“I think it really turned everybody’s head, and everyone was like ‘Wow, we can do this. We are good,'” said Ute freshman Shannon Krug, who was named the MWC tournament’s top setter. “Everybody’s got the goal in their mind that we can win it all if we keep playing the way we are playing.”

It will be the first taste of the win-or-go home NCAAs for Krug and several of her compatriots, but the Utes are confident that they will play with the same focus as they did in the MWCs.

“It’s a little more serious. Everyone’s a little more focused than on a normal night,” Krug said. “(But) all in all, we’re still at home, so it should be a good game no matter what.”

Loyola Marymount comes into the tournament after receiving an at-large bid. The Lions finished fifth in the heavily competitive West Coast Conference.

“Offensively, they put up similar numbers to us,” Launiere said. “Defensively, they are a very good floor team. They dig a lot of balls, but they don’t block as many. We’re a more physical team at the net, so we are going to have to wear them down.”

Should the Utes knock off the Lions, they will face the winner of Utah State and Arizona on Saturday at 7 p.m.

The Aggies and Wildcats will square off at 6 p.m. on Friday, with the Wildcats-the No. 4 seed in the 64-team tournament-a heavy favorite. The Utes haven’t played Arizona this season, but they squeaked by USU in Logan in five games early in the year.

Per NCAA regulations, students will not get in free to the tournament. Youth and student admission is $5, while adults cost $8. Tickets can be bought at the door or purchased online at www.utahtickets.com.

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