Volleyball set for MWC tournament

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

After a season full of conference wins, the No. 9 U volleyball team (25-2, 16-0 MWC) will look for even more this weekend when the Utes travel to Las Vegas for the Mountain West Conference tournament.

With a pair of victories last weekend, the Utes became just the second team in conference history to get through their schedule unscathed. They are also currently on a 23-match winning streak that started on Sept. 3 in southern California.

The Utes hope to continue that school record streak through the tournament, which starts Wednesday. Winning the Mountain West Conference regular season title landed the Utes the No. 1 seed in the tournament, where they will face off against the winner of a play-in game between New Mexico (No. 8 seed) and Air Force (No. 9 seed).

“It’s a whole different ballgame now,” U head coach Beth Launiere said. “We had built up a cushion and had already won the Mountain West championship a week ago, but now, if you lose, you go home. We have to have that mentality if we want to win it.”

Air Force is on the other end of the spectrum with the Utes, as it has yet to win a conference match this year. Utah thoroughly dominated the Falcons in both meetings this year, with the end result of each being 3-0 sweeps. Air Force outside-hitter Katie Batchelder leads the Falcons with 2.62 kills per game but will have to have a phenomenal game if the Falcons hope to sneak pass New Mexico.

The Lobos come into the conference tournament with high hopes despite losing their regular season finale to Wyoming. That’s because they upset then-No. 18-ranked BYU two weeks ago. New Mexico came out of the blocks hot, jumping out to a 2-0 lead and never giving the Cougars much of a chance, winning 3-1.

Lobo outside-hitter Jeanne Fairchild racked up 24 kills to lead her team to victory. She currently leads New Mexico with a 3.33 kill-per-game average to rank ninth in the conference. On the other side of the offense, outside-hitter Kelly Therkelsen knocks down 2.78 kills per game. The two of them combine for more than 50 percent of the Lobo offense and have created problems for nearly all the teams they’ve played.

“(New Mexico) has a very talented outside-hitter in Jeanne (Fairchild),” Launiere said. “She is just a tremendous athlete and really has the ability to just go off. Likewise, their right-side (Therkelsen) is a very emotional, physical leader.”

Defensively, Gayle Tripp ranks fourth in the conference from her libero position with 4.30 digs per game.

If the Utes are able to get past New Mexico, they will play the winner of host-UNLV (No. 4 seed) and Wyoming (No. 5 seed). On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 BYU will square off against No. 7 San Diego State and No. 3 Colorado State will take on No. 6 TCU.

“I’m really proud to have won the regular season title, but now we’re just going after the tournament championship,” Launiere said. “All of that other stuff doesn’t matter now; we just have to take it one game at a time and try to keep our momentum going.”

Tyler Cobb

Connie Dangerfield celebrates during the Utes’ 3-1 win against Wyoming on Nov. 9. The Mountain West Conference Tournament begins Thursday in Las Vegas.