Volleyball nets first two wins of season

In many ways, the U volleyball team is saltier after just five matches than the 2006 version of the team was in mid-October.

The Utes seasoned themselves a little more this weekend at the Purdue Mortar Board Premier, with 3-1 and 3-2 victories coming over North Carolina and No. 18 Purdue, respectively. The one blemish to the Utes’ record was a fiercely competitive five-game match with Dayton, who is now 6-0 and a force to be reckoned with.

Last season, it took the Utes nearly three months before they were handed their third loss. This season, it took just two weeks. It also took the Utes more than two months before they played in their first five-game match. This season, the Utes have already faced that situation three times. And while every coach and player would admit they’d rather get the job done in three or four games, there is something a team can take from being pushed to the limit.

“Not only have we been playing really good matches, they’ve been against really good teams,” outside hitter Kathryn Haynie said. “We’ve got a lot of needed experience. It’s really helped us a lot to find where we are as a team.”

After the Utes’ dispatch of North Carolina (30-15, 28-30, 30-21, 30-22) on Friday night, they got a chance to find out what they were made of on Saturday when faced with back-to-back matches that both went the distance.

The Utes charged to an early 11-8 lead in the first game, but the Flyers — who swept nationally-ranked Purdue a day earlier — reeled off four straight points to take a 12-11 edge. Later, Dayton went on a 6-1 run with the score tied at 22 and eventually put game one away by a 30-26 advantage.

The Utes responded by putting on a show in games two and three, as they beat the Fliers by identical 30-18 scores behind numerous multi-point runs and sizzling hitting percentages of .364 and .320, respectively. The Fliers bounced back though, winning game four 30-26.

In the fifth game, neither team was able to separate itself by more than two points all game. With the score tied at 14, a kill and an ace by Dayton proved to be the difference.

“It’s always disappointing to lose,” Haynie said. “At the same time, it was exciting to see how good our team is going to be. We were only two points away from another win.”

As tough as the loss to Dayton was to swallow, the Utes still had to regroup for Purdue in the nightcap of their doubleheader.

The Utes let 10 attack errors — exacerbated by five Purdue blocks — and a late Boilermaker surge sink them in game one, which became the third game one loss in five tries this season.

In both previous matches, the Utes ended up losing the match after dropping the first game. In games two and three, the Utes looked bent on changing that trend.

Behind a combined 21 kills, the Utes came out on top of two hotly contested matches with the score of 30-27 and 31-29 in games two and three, respectively.

After losing a ragged fourth match 30-18, the Utes dug deep for another deciding fifth game.

“It was tough to play a five game match, then to turn around and play another good team,” Lori Baird said. “We were ready to fight again. We were sick of losing these five-game matches.”

The Utes jumped out to a 3-0 lead early, but Purdue quickly caught them with a 3-0 run of their own. Utah and Purdue then traded the next 20 points, with neither team taking more than a one-point advantage until the Boilermakers managed to string together three points late.

Then Purdue unraveled. Four consecutive kill errors — the last one assisted by a block from Haynie and Baird — allowed the Utes to squeak by with a 15-13 win in game five.

“We battled hard today and showed a lot of character after losing a tough five-game match this morning,” head coach Beth Launiere said. “I’m really proud of this team for finding a way to win the last match. (Our) team beat a good Big Ten team is a big deal for us.”

After the tournament, Baird and Haynie teamed up again as part of the all-tournament team. Haynie and Baird tallied 39 kills a piece in the tournament. Baird had 20 blocks to go with her kill count and Haynie added six service aces.

“Lori (Baird), especially, did a good job this weekend,” Haynie said. “For her to step up and get that many blocks, and also the kills she had, it’s important that she kind of stepped up. It was totally a team effort though.”

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Jarad Reddekopp

Stephanie Shardlow sets the ball in a practice scrimmage on Aug. 20. The Utes went two-for-three over the weekend in the Purdue Mortar Board Tournament, defeating North Carolina and upsetting no. 17 Purdue.