Utah volleyball: Season in review

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

After a record-setting season that saw the U volleyball team rattle off 25 consecutive victories and win its first outright regular-season Mountain West Conference title, the Utes were left with a bad taste in their mouths.

The team wielded a 2-0 lead over Colorado State in the MWC tournament championship, but couldn’t finish the match, letting the Rams edge back in and eventually win the contest.

The loss to the Rams sent the Utes’ season into a downward spiral, first getting passed over for a seed in the NCAA tournament, then losing in the second round to No. 4 UCLA.

Despite the sour ending, the Utes accomplished more in this season than ever before. They went undefeated through most of September, October and November and recorded only the second undefeated conference season in Mountain West history.

“I’m very proud of my girls and what they’ve accomplished this year,” Utah head coach Beth Launiere said. “You don’t win 25 consecutive matches on accident. That’s a credit to how hard they’ve worked.”

The Utes’ magical season opened up with a pair of early-season losses to then-No. 5 Florida and then-No. 14 USC in the first two weeks.

That’s when the youthful Utes started to put all the pieces together. The team finished off its preseason schedule with quality wins over Fresno State, Temple and Utah State, then ripped through its conference schedule without hitting a snag. The miraculous run was highlighted with an upset victory over then-No. 16 BYU in front of more than 4,500 Cougar fans in Provo.

Utah continued its streak early in the Mountain West Conference tournament, hammering both New Mexico and UNLV, but couldn’t get out of Las Vegas with the championship.

Middle-blocker Emillie Toone was a big part of the Utes’ success this year. Standing at 6-foot-7, Toone is one of the most formidable volleyball players in the nation. As UCLA setter Nellie Spicer put it, “You’re not going to run into too many girls like her in college volleyball.”

Toone made some noise on the national level this year, finishing first in the nation with a 1.93 block-per-game average. She also ranked second in the conference with a .369 hitting percentage.

Meanwhile, outside-hitter Airial Salvo carried much of the offensive workload for the U, ranking second in the conference in kills per game (4.11) and first in service aces (0.45). The sophomore also ranked in the top 10 in the conference in hitting percentage (.287), points per game (4.96) and digs per game (3.35).

Despite all the accolades, the greatest positive the Utes can take from this year isn’t in the numbers or championships. It is the fact that every player on the roster is an underclassman and therefore will be returning next year.

The young Utes have plenty of experience to draw upon, as they have now been to the second round of the NCAA tournament for two straight seasons.

“We’re excited to return all of our players next year,” Launiere said after the UCLA loss. “This kind of experience should come in handy and we’ll look forward to these competitions in the future.”

Tyler Cobb

Emillie Toone celebrates after Utah’s first-round win in the NCAA tournament. Toone led the team with 11 total block assists. The Utes’ were defeated in the next round by fourth-ranked UCLA. The Utes ended the year 27-5.