Fourteen down, two to go

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

The No. 9 U volleyball team (23-2, 14-0) is on the cusp of doing something it has never done before–going undefeated through its entire Mountain West Conference schedule.

But then, setting the bar is nothing new for these Utes. They are currently on a 21-match winning streak (a school record) and won their first-ever outright Mountain West Conference regular season title last week.

If the Utes want to accomplish yet another school first, they’ll have to get through this weekend unscathed as they travel to Colorado to take on Air Force and Colorado State on consecutive nights.

“These two matches are important to us,” U head coach Beth Launiere said. “At this point in the season, we want to keep getting better and want to get mentally prepared for the postseason.”

The Utes’ first stop on the road to history will be in Air Force tonight. The Falcons (3-22, 0-14 MWC) are on the exact opposite end of the spectrum from the Utes; they haven’t won a conference match this entire season.

Leading the Falcon offense this season is Katie Batchelder, who averages 2.57 kills per game this season. Kristina Stewart attacks opposing defenses from the other side with a 2.07-kill-per-game staple. The two of them account for more than half of the Air Force offense and will surely be a focus for coach Launiere and the Utes.

Defensively, the Falcons are led by Jocelyn Booker and Michelle Harrington, both averaging 0.75 blocks per game.

“Air Force does a lot of subbing and a lot of different lineups, so they are kind of difficult to prepare for,” Launiere said. “We just have to take care of our side of the net and play hard.”

If the Utes can get by Air Force, they will look to finish off their perfect conference season at Colorado State on Saturday. The last meeting between the two schools saw the Utes utilizing strong defense at the net to take a 3-0 victory over the Rams.

The Rams have had plenty of time to think about that defeat and have since racked up a multitude of wins to tie for second place in the conference at 11-3.

“Colorado State has gotten progressively better as the season goes on,” Launiere said. “They are playing really good volleyball right now and they have a lot riding on this weekend. If they can pick off us or BYU, it will go a long way toward getting them an NCAA tournament bid.”

Colorado State had a streak of its own going at 14 consecutive matches before last weekend, when the Rams lost a 3-2 nail-biter to UNLV in Las Vegas. Tonya Mokelki and Mekana Barnes led the Rams in the match with 21 and 20 kills, respectively. While Mokelki and Barnes are two versatile offensive threats for the Rams, outside-hitter Jamie Strauss leads the team with 3.39 kills per game. With the total, the sophomore ranks eighth in the conference.

Middle-blocker Tessa Nelson leads the stalwart Colorado State defense with 1.23 blocks per game. Anything that gets past Nelson and the rest of the frontline will be fielded by freshman Katelin Batten, who leads the team with 3.64 digs per game.

“Mokelki is their most aggressive player, as well as their emotional leader,” Launiere said. “Mekana (Barnes) is also a big player in the middle. Those two players you have to take care of. We are going in there expecting a battle.”

Tyler Cobb

The No. 9 U volleyball team (23-2, 14-0) is on the cusp of doing something it has never done before–going undefeated through its entire Mountain West Conference schedule.