Power of ten

The U volleyball team has been waiting for this weekend to come for a long time — and not just because they get the chance to play two top-10 opponents either.

The Utes will get the chance to play in front of their home crowd for the first time this season as they host the the No. 4 USC Trojans at Crimson Court with the opening serve set for 7 p.m.

Two days later, the Utes will then entertain the No. 6 Florida Gators to cap off what is sure to be one of the most high-profile and entertaining weekends of volleyball the U’s campus has ever seen.

“We’re very excited,” Kate Robison said. “It’s going to be way fun. “They’re big teams and they’re going to challenge us, and hopefully we can challenge them right back.”

Though the Utes have dropped out of the CSTV/AVCA top-25 poll, they are excited about their chances to gain the experience facing teams like Florida and USC will bring.

“We’re just looking at it as we’re going to learn from them,” Launiere said. “If we go out and beat people 3-0, you don’t learn anything and when you get to conference you get in trouble.”

Despite the talent and experience both USC and Florida bring to the table, the Utes still enter the weekend with the expectation of winning.

“The goal is to win the matches,” Launiere said. “There’s no other goal for us…but this is not lose and break the season. I believe anything can happen.”

The last time “anything could happen” actually did happen for the Utes was in 2000 when the Utes beat then-No. 1 Stanford, 3-2, on the same court they host USC tonight. In hopes of giving her team the best possible chance to repeat a top-10 upset on her team’s home floor, Beth Launiere is changing up her lineup in hopes of finding a winning blend of size and talent.

Keisha Fisher, who started the season as the Utes’ setter, has been rotated to the backline to help solidify the Utes’ passing game. Lori Baird will be sliding over to the left side for the first time this season. Chelsea Sandberg will get a chance to start this weekend as well.

“Our goal is to get better by the Mountain West,” Launiere said. “We need to keep trying things and this lineup gives us a little more size, which we need this weekend.”

Taking Fisher’s place as setter will be Stephanie Hodge. The freshman setter, who got her first start of the season in Utah’s 3-2 loss to No. 23 Dayton, will be the primary accomplice to her teammates’ kills this weekend.

“Stephanie’s doing a nice job,” Launiere said. “Kiesha started against UCLA, Stephanie’s starting against USC. Welcome to college volleyball.”

The movement of Fisher to the backline, and Hodge into the setter position, is an attempt to help rectify the Utes’ passing deficiencies, which have been the focal point of improvement in practice this week.

“We need to be able to pass and play defense,” Fisher said. “The whole week we’ve spent an hour on passing every day. We work a lot on ball control and that’s gotten better already.”

One element of the U volleyball team that Launiere hopes will just keep going is the play of outside hitter Whitney Webb. After a solid, but ordinary performance in the Purdue Mortar Board Premier last weekend, Webb has been wearing her game face all week.

“Whitney had a really good practice and I’m really looking for her to have a good weekend,” Launiere said.

Webb spearheads one of the Utes’ emerging strengths this season: their balanced attack. Lori Baird and Kat Haynie are coming of all-tournament honors last week in Purdue. Adding to the mix is Robison, who managed to set a career high in kills (21) against Purdue last Saturday.

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Jarad Reddekopp