Want a shot at the champ?

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

It started out as a mistake.

Last year, a printing error was made while trying to make the 2005 Mountain West Conference tournament championship banner. Instead, it read, “2006 Mountain West Conference Champions.”

But Utah volleyball coach Beth Launiere didn’t throw the banner away.

“Let’s hold on to it,” Launiere said. “We might just need it.”

It’s now one year later and the printing faux pas isn’t looking that bad perched on the north wall of Crimson Court alongside all the other championship banners. But this one is quite a bit different, since it is the first outright Mountain West Conference regular season championship the Utes have ever won.

The Utes clinched the title last weekend when Colorado State lost a 3-2 squeaker to UNLV. The loss dropped the Rams into a second-place tie with BYU at 11-3 and sealed the title for the Utes, who only have two matches remaining on their schedule.

So, how do the Utes feel about their accomplishment?

“It’s pretty awesome,” U libero Connie Dangerfield said. “I don’t think that half of the team knew we had already won it, so it was kind of nice to see our accomplishments hanging up on the wall.”

With the Mountain West Conference already in hand, it would be pretty easy for the Utes to let themselves become complacent in their final two matches. Then again, Utah has shown absolutely no complacency during its current 21-match winning streak.

“Winning the Mountain West title was definitely one of our goals and we’re checking it off the list as we go,” said Utah outside-hitter Whitney Webb. “But we know that we have two tough road games this weekend and don’t want to go into the postseason with a letdown, so we’re going to give it our all.”

If the Utes are able to get out of Colorado (Air Force, Colorado State) with a pair of wins this weekend, they will be the first Mountain West team since Colorado State in 2003 to go undefeated through their conference schedule.

“(Going undefeated) wasn’t a goal at the start of the season, but with it being so close, you know, only two matches to go, we’re definitely going for it,” Launiere said.

As the Utes’ 2006 season comes to a close, they are also looking to the future. On Tuesday morning, coach Launiere announced that the U had signed two high-profile recruits to national letters of intent.

Karolina Bartkowiak, a 6-foot-2 middle-blocker from Aurora, Ill., is a three-time all-conference player and helped her club team with the Asics Championship in Chicago.

“Karolina has a lot of natural athleticism and her strength is the ability to hit the slide,” Launiere said. “She will also bring tremendous work ethic to this team.”

Also joining the Utes for the 2007 season will be 6-foot-6 outside-hitter Jennifer Lanting. The Cocoran, Calif., native got a late start in volleyball but has still been a solid contributor for Central Valley Christian High School, which won the valley title in 2004 and the league title in 2005.

“Jennifer’s size is obviously her biggest advantage, but we feel she is also a good volleyball player,” Launiere said. “She hasn’t played volleyball that long, but we saw a lot of natural athleticism in her. We believe that she can be molded into a great volleyball player for us.”

Lennie Mahler

Airial Salvo dives down to try to pancake the ball during the Utes’ last season match at home against Wyoming.