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Oh, the places you’ve gone! Volleyball year-in-review

The 2005 Utah volleyball season turned out to be just what head coach Beth Launiere predicted at the outset: some early struggles as the young team gained confidence and chemistry, followed by a late surge.

The freshman-laden Utes started slowly indeed, going 2-2, before eventually going on a big run to win the MWC tournament and to get to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Here is a look back at the season that was.

Summer of 2005

The mood was good during the offseason, as Launiere’s vaunted recruiting class got closer to donning Ute red. Some team members competed in an international volleyball tournament held in West Valley, and super-recruit Airial Salvo went to Turkey for a junior-national team tournament.

The only negative heading into the season was a nagging rotator-cuff injury to 2004 MWC Libero of the Year Connie Dangerfield.

The non-conference slate

The Utes began with four-straight sweeps-two wins and two losses. The setbacks came in a tournament, where the Utes lost to No. 21 Missouri and No. 9 Tennessee. Apparently the three-game losses didn’t sit well with Utah, as they were not swept for the rest of the season.

When No. 17 Santa Clara came to town on Sept. 17, the Utes were holding a 6-3 record. In a back-and-forth match, the Utes managed to eke out a five-game victory, giving the team its first marquee win of the year.

Following the Santa Clara win, Dangerfield, who had not yet taken the court all season, decided to redshirt, instead of playing an abbreviated year.

Conference play

It wasn’t particularly amusing for the team at the time, but there is a certain degree of irony that the eventual MWC tournament champion started off its conference slate 1-2.

The Utes began with a win at Air Force but proceeded to drop matches at New Mexico and BYU-both teams that Utah had dominated in recent years.

But the losses would not pile up. The Utes reeled off 10 wins in their next 11 matches, highlighted by their rematch with BYU. The Utes handed the No. 12 Cougars their first loss of the season, dominating them 3-0 in front of a record Crimson Court crowd.

As good as things were going, the Utes ended the regular season on a little slide, dropping a home match to rival Colorado State and getting upset on the road by a San Diego State team that hit lights-out for the match. Heading to the MWC tournament, Utah was firmly on the NCAA bubble.

MWC Tournament

The Utes must have found a good Vegas buffet because they simply obliterated the tournament field. They swept Wyoming and Colorado State in successive matches, setting up a third date with BYU, which had finished the regular season with only two losses. But once again, the Cougars were no match for their red rivals, going down in four games. Shelly Sommerfeldt was named tournament MVP, and the Utes celebrated in Sin City.

NCAA Tournament

The Utes were happily surprised to learn that they would be a first- and second-round host for the NCAAs.

Their first round draw was Loyola Marymount-but it might as well have been the local glee club. The Utes manhandled the Lions in three games, including a first game that saw Loyola get only 10 points.

In round two, they faced No. 4 seed Arizona, which was ranked No. 6 in the nation entering the match. The Utes and Wildcats battled back and forth, but late Arizona rallies in games one and four allowed the ‘Cats to move on and ended the Utes’ season.

The Players

Graduating seniors

Danielle Leichliter, OH, L

Heading into the season, Leichliter was expected to be one of the team’s main offensive threats. She only finished with 60 kills but ended up making a greater impact than anyone could have known. Since Dangerfield never took the court, Leichliter ended up winning the starting libero position, a spot that she turned into a positive, especially late in the season. Her 389 digs were tops on the team.

Shelly Sommerfeldt, OH

Sommerfeldt capped off her sterling Ute career the way it started-by getting lots of big kills and helping the team win plenty of matches. She led the team with 421 kills and finished second with 340 digs, en route to winning All-MWC honors for the third straight year. She also ends her stay at the U among the school leaders in career kills.

Katie Theurer, S

Once an afterthought, Theurer became a valuable specialist late in the season. She was inserted to serve in pressure situations and responded with 11 aces on the season. She also pitched in with some key defensive play during the MWC and NCAA tournaments.

Players returning next year

Lori Baird, Soph. in ’06, MB

One of the big names in Launiere’s recruiting class, Baird didn’t disappoint. She started from the first match and finished with a 2.54 kills-per-game average. Her serving was shaky early on but actually improved later in the season, when she started serving more aggressively.

Connie Dangerfield, Jr., L

Dangerfield never took the court in 2005 but should be 100 percent healthy heading into 2006. She was the conference’s best libero in 2004, and if she can recover fully, will hold down the position for two more years.

Shannon Krug, Soph., S

Krug came to Salt Lake City as a decorated high-school setter and won the starting job amid heavy competition during the preseason. She struggled a bit with passing early on but gained confidence later in the season, enough to earn top setter honors at the MWC tournament. She will be pushed next season by Sydney Anderson, a top setter recruit from local Alta High School.

Carlee Kulovitz, Jr., MB

She only played in 12 games all season and has not fully recovered from a nasty knee injury sustained before the 2004 season. If she can return to the form she showed her freshman year, the 6-foot-4-inch Kulovitz could be a big contributor in the middle.

Lacey Lavarias, Soph., DS, L

The youngster from Hawaii contributed early in the season when Launiere was going with a platoon at libero. She will most likely back up Dangerfield next season, as she showed good quickness in her limited time.

Kathryn Lovell, Soph., OH

Another big-time recruit, Lovell started the first match but saw her time decrease later in the year. She showed potential to be a big hitter but got caught up in the Utes’ depth log-jam as the season wore on.

Natalie Miller, Sr., OH

Miller never cracked the rotation, only appearing in 13 games. But should injuries crop up in 2006, she has the experience required to step in.

Karlie Porter, Sr., S

She lost out on the starting setter job during preseason but did a nice job spelling Krug during the year. She’ll most likely compete for the backup setter job against the incoming Anderson next season.

Kate Robison, Jr., OH, L

She was the “do everything” utility player, competing on the front line and as libero. She’ll most likely find a home at outside hitter next year, as several players will jockey to replace Sommerfeldt.

Airial Salvo, Soph., OH

Salvo lived up to her billing and then some, earning All-MWC honors her freshman season. Her 397 kills were second only to Sommerfeldt’s, as she proved to be a nearly-undiggable hitter when she was clicking.

Amie Tingey, Sr., MB

The former Miss Toone was plagued by shin splints through most of the season but still managed to pitch in during long matches. If she can get healthy for 2006, she should have a good senior season.

Emillie Toone, Jr., OH, MB

Toone made big strides from her first season and ended up leading the team in blocking and hitting percentage. To become a complete player, though, she needs to get a little more upper-body strength. But no matter what, she will be one of the key starters in 2006.

Whitney Webb, Jr., OH, MB

Webb went from wallowing on the bench early on to starting in the NCAA tournament and finishing fifth on the team in kills.

She’s one of the better passers on the t
eam and will be hard to beat out for a starting job next season.

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