Making progress

Sometimes a blessing can also be a curse. So the U volleyball team is learning; but don’t worry-they’ve got the rest of the week to figure it all out before taking on BYU.

Early in the season, most of the Utes’ points of concern were on the offensive end. They needed to improve their passing, they needed to cut down on their mistakes, their execution needed to improve. Blocking wasn’t much of an issue. After all, the Ute roster boasts the top blocker in the entire country (Emillie Toone), and the Utes lead the Mountain West Conference in the category by a long shot.

But the U offense has come around. Saturday, it put together one of its best all-around performances of the season, hitting .442 in a sweep over San Diego State. Outside hitters Airial Salvo and Kathryn Lovell have emerged as two of the biggest offensive threats in the league.

So is that it? Have the Utes worked out all their issue already? Well, as head coach Beth Launiere can attest, perfection is impossible. As the team has spent much of its practice time fine-tuning the offense, the blocking, Launiere says, has taken a bit of a back seat. And it showed Saturday against the Aztecs, the 3-0 sweep notwithstanding.

“Our blocking has taken a hit the last couple weeks because we haven’t worked on it, because it’s hard for me to justify working on blocking when we’re so good at it,” Launiere said. “But now some poor habits have developed, so this week we’ll work on blocking. It’s just breaking down a little bit.”

As the team returns from its road trip and hits the gym this week to prepare for the Cougars, blocking is priority No. 1.

“These next few games, we’re going to get better with our blocking,” Salvo said. “That’s our main thing right now.”

For a group that hasn’t lost in nearly a month-and even that loss came to a Pac-10 squad now ranked in the nation’s top 10-it might be easy to become content with the current state of affairs.

Even more specifically, the way the Utes have won their matches this season could be seen as either a plus or negative. All but one of their victories has come via sweep this season, so are things coming too easily?

That may be overstating things, but Launiere concedes that such an issue may have come into play already, namely last Thursday night.

“Thursday night, we lost composure,” Launiere said, referring to the team’s closely fought 3-1 victory over UNLV, the team’s only non-sweep victory.

“That was the first time that we’ve been challenged and pressed, and we kind of lost composure for a little bit there, and gutted it out?I don’t think we were totally focused for Thursday night, and that’s why we got into some trouble.”

Since losses-even single-game losses-have been few and far between, Launiere and her coaching staff are dealing with the challenge of keeping the Utes focused on their shortcomings rather than concentrating on the wins that continue to pile up.

“As a coaching staff, you’re aware of that issue,” Launiere said. “We are trying to challenge them in a lot of different areas, not just winning and losing. We’re scouting transition attacking; we’re looking at our movement on defense. We’re trying to challenge them in their whole execution and the running of our system. We definitely have ways to keep getting better.”

Of course, no matter what the scoreboard says, the Utes themselves-both players and coaches-can critique themselves better than anyone, finding both positives and negatives. Regardless of the 11 wins in 13 chances, they are fully aware of the pitfalls that could come with such success.

“We’ve got to focus on the little things that other teams don’t really realize that we need to fix,” Toone said. “We just need to fix those little things.”