Playing for all the right reasons

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

The No. 11 U volleyball team is one of the best teams in the nation, but you’d never hear that from its members.

The Utes were–for lack of a better word–screwed out of a seed by the NCAA selection committee, despite finishing 27-3 and getting through the Mountain West Conference regular season undefeated. But you wouldn’t catch them complaining about their draw in the tournament. They would say something like, “You have to go through the best if you want to be the best.”

Throughout the season, the team has faced various hurdles (half the team had the flu when it played BYU) and dealt with a lot of adversity (the upset in the MWC championship by Colorado State). But through it all, the players have shown a kind of class and sportsmanship that is unparalleled in collegiate or professional sports today. They are a selfless bunch–from top to bottom. You would never hear any of them say a conceited word or complain to head coach Beth Launiere about playing time.

In this day and age, it is rare to see a group of athletes not concerned with personal numbers, but instead with how the team plays as a whole. Too often at this university–and institutions across the country–athletes forget that they are getting a quality education and having the privilege of playing the sport they love while doing so.

That is not the case with our volleyball team.

The classiness starts at the top with coach Launiere and trickles down to each player on the roster.

Earlier this year, I was writing a preview for a pair of weekend match-ups in which the Utes played Colorado State and Air Force on consecutive nights. The Falcons have been in the conference gutter since the team’s inception and would surely be a gimme victory for the Utes. Being the na’ve reporter that I am, I asked coach Launiere something smug along the lines of, “Do I even need to ask about Air Force?”

Launiere replied as if I had torn off one of her limbs.

“You know, those girls work extremely hard, and to discredit them isn’t right,” Launiere said. “(Their coach) has them playing very hard, and they deserve some respect.”

Point taken.

The good nature of coach Launiere comes through her players, as well. A number of the athletes are involved in various acts of community service, and all of them give credit to the university.

Their affability off the court also shows through on the hardwood. When one of them falls on the court, all of them run to see if the person is OK and help her up. When one of them gets a block or kill, you’d think she had just won the lottery.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles and cover the team through the first couple rounds of the NCAA tournament. The Utes made a thrilling, come-from-behind victory against Michigan State in the first round, but couldn’t keep up with No. 4 UCLA in the second and were eliminated from the tournament. After the game, more than half the players thanked me for traveling down there and for covering them the entire year.

It’s as though coach Launiere gave her players a book telling them exactly how to act or what to say in any given situation. As a journalist, this is normally frustrating because we salivate over those selfish, eye-catching quotes you have come to expect from the likes of Terrell Owens or Jeremy Shockey–but I haven’t been troubled one minute while covering Ute volleyball this year.

I think we could all learn a lesson looking at these women and what they have accomplished this season. They may not have come away with a conference tournament or a national championship, but their demeanor wins them all sorts of accolades from this reporter.

Tyler Cobb

Airial Salvo digs in a match with Michigan State during the national tournament Dec.1 at UCLA. Though the U volleyball team hasn’t come away with a conference tournament or a national championship, it has demonstrated unusual sportsmanship throughout the season.