U volleyball staying focused

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

The U volleyball team has not lost in close to a month and carries a nine-game winning streak into this weekend’s conference battle against BYU.

So what is it worried about?

Everything.

“We’re at the point in the season where we still have plenty to work on,” head coach Beth Launiere said. “We’ll keep working at it, though, on different things, and eventually we’ll get to 100 percent. We’re not great yet, but we hope to get there at the end of the season.”

One of the things Launiere believes the team needs to focus on is its blocking.

The Utes came into last weekend No. 2 in the nation in blocking, and despite a below-par performance from star middle-blocker Emillie Toone, they continued their dominance, racking up 22.5 blocks over the course of two games.

Whitney Webb and Lori Baird picked up the slack for the Utes, snagging 11 blocks each in the two wins. With their performances last weekend, the duo joined Toone in the top four in blocking for the Mountain West Conference.

“We have to focus on blocking. We were doing so well for so long that we didn’t think we needed to work on it for a while. It seems like we lost a little bit of discipline last weekend, so we need to get back to that,” Launiere said.

Toone agrees with Launiere and is quick to point out that she still has much to work on.

“Personally, I need to get back to being more balanced. Right now I’m kind of guessing. I need to go back to reading the setters and reading hitters,” Toone said.

Despite averaging just 1.0 blocks against SDSU, Toone still leads the nation by a sizeable 0.23 block-per-game average. She is also the only player in the NCAA to average more than two blocks per game (2.12).

Blocking isn’t the only focal point of this week’s practices, though, with serving being another major issue for the Utes.

“When our serving is on, it takes a lot of things away from other teams. A few teams in our conference are struggling with their passing, so we’ll focus a lot on serving this week,” Launiere said, “We have to try to attack BYU’s offense to take them out of their game.”

The Utes may face a bigger opponent than the Cougars this weekend, though, as five Utah players (four starters) have been sidelined this week due to a stomach virus.

“We took yesterday (Monday) off to try to recuperate the team and five players missed practice (Tuesday),” Launiere said. “I hope that it’s only a 24-hour thing and that they will be back this weekend, but you never know.”

Utah comes into this week with an 11-2 record, despite not having a single senior on the team.

“It hasn’t been that difficult adjusting. You know, seniors have a sense of urgency and sometimes we don’t really have that. If anything, that may be a difference,” Launiere said.

Libero Connie Dangerfield would be the sole senior on Ute squad this year, but she sat out last season with a medical redshirt, due to a rotator cuff injury.

Dangerfield comes into Friday’s match averaging 4.05 digs per game to rank sixth in the Mountain West. The junior libero could also be viewed as the team’s emotional leader, with each dig and dive spurring the Utes on a run.

Dangerfield and the Utes will need to be firing on all cylinders this Friday when they travel to Provo to take on the No. 16 Cougars.