Second chance at a first impression

Although the Utah volleyball team could not emerge from Omaha, Neb. with a win last week, the Utes made significant progress against two very good teams in No. 5 UCLA and Tennessee. Now that the kinks are out, the Utes are looking for wins.

The first chance for the Utes to capture their first win of the season will come today when Utah faces the North Carolina Tarheels in the opening round of the Mortar Board Premier hosted by Purdue University.

Joining Utah, North Carolina and hosts Purdue — which currently holds the No. 17 ranking in the country — will be Dayton and No. 18 Duke. The Utes square off against the Tarheels tonight and then go on to face Dayton and Purdue in back-to-back matches on Saturday.

In the Utes’ season opener, the Utes tried to exact revenge on UCLA — who knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament last season. They did not succeed, as the Utes fell to the Bruins 3-0. The Utes did, however, discover what the team has to work on in the future. Their primary focus: communication and getting to know one another.

The most beneficial aspect the Utes should gain from playing against more of the top competition from around the country is the opportunity to get comfortable with their new setter.

Keisha Fisher vaulted into the starting setter position last week after Beth Launiere made an announcement a day before the Utes left for the AVCA Showcase in Lincoln, Neb. on Aug. 24. Though Fisher saw all the minutes of Utah’s losses to UCLA and Tennesee, the decision on whether the freshman or sophomore setter Stephanie Hodgman will eventually get the starting nod is likely to remain up for grabs until both setters get an equal opportunity to show what they’ve got.

The Utes will also get the chance to close out matches against another set of formidable opponents

The Utes led a great opportunity to force a game four against UCLA on Aug. 24, but let the Bruins come back from a 27-23 deficit in game three, which enabled UCLA to finish the game and the match on a 7-0 run.

The following night against Tennessee, the Utes seesawed with the Lady Vols for five games and eventually let a late advantage slip away — resulting in the Utes’ second loss in two days.Even though the losses can be regarded as setbacks, the early season losses give the Utes a lot to learn from as well. The Utes will look to turn those lessons into progress, starting with a recent foe that hails from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Utah handed the Tarheels a 3-0 loss on Sept. 1 of last season in the USC Tournament. To repeat that feat again tonight, the Utes will have to contend against the passing abilities of Stephanie Jansma. Jansma — who was named the tournament MVP of last week’s Buffalo Classic — is averaging 11.8 assists per game. Outside hitter Courtney Johnston — who is currently leading the team in kills at 3.78 kpg — will be the Utes’ top defensive assignment.

On Saturday, the Utes will have to contend with Dayton, who swept through their own opening-season tournament, collecting wins against Bowling Green, Indiana-Purdue University of Fort Worth and Illinios. Jamie-Lee Richards leads the way for the Dayton Flyers with 3.33 kills and nearly an ace per game.

As a nightcap, the Utes will have the opportunity to test themselves against the Purdue Boilermakers. Purdue offers the challenge of stopping their very capable hitter, Stephanie Lynch, who leads the team in kills at 4.0 per contest. The Utes will also face a libero as tough as their own Connie Webb when they try and spike the ball past Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week Anne Mastandrea. The Purdue libero averaged 7.55 digs per game in Purdue’s opening-season appearance at the Duke Invitational.

Following the Mortar Board Classic, the Utes will have a week to prepare for two more top-25 opponents when they play host to USC and Florida on Sept. 7 and Sept. 9, respectively.

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