Volleyball drops two on the road

By and

Last year, the U volleyball team found it easy to experience the thrill of a win on a consistent basis, especially in conference play. This year, not so much.

The Utes dropped their second consecutive MWC decision on the road against UNLV on Saturday by a familiar 3-1 score. The loss also drops the Utes to 2-7 on the year, which is an exact reciprocal of the 7-2 record the Utes compiled through nine games last season.

“I think we’re struggling, just in terms of winning the close games,” head coach Beth Launiere said. “We haven’t won enough to have that experience. So we definitely need to figure out how to win those close games.”

The loss to UNLV, combined with the loss last Thursday to San Diego State, has given the Utes the worst start to conference play since back-to-back losses to Hawaii and BYU in 1996.

Despite the loss, the Utes saw some encouraging improvement compared to the less-than-dazzling performance they put together against San Diego State.

“I think it’s a lot of little things,” said U libero Connie Dangerfield. “We just can’t seem to put together a completely solid match. When our passing is on, our hitting is off.”

UNLV, which features an unorthodox style by dropping most of its blockers back to provide open lanes for the digging game, came out on fire and breezed past the Utes 30-19 in game one. The Utes, however, managed to turn the tables quickly and netted a 30-25 win in game two to square the match at one game each.

After the break, the Utes found themselves in a position they’ve been accustomed to all year. The Utes looked to swing the momentum in their favor and held a lead late in pivotal game three. The Utes carried a 19-14 lead late into the game, before allowing UNLV to string together a 7-2 run to knot the game at 21-21. The Utes managed to gain another sizeable lead before UNLV sophomore Jessica Walters tallied two kills and sunk the Utes late yet again.

“UNLV has a style, and we know that style,” Launiere said. “They dig balls. They’re not trying stop us with their block. They’re a great floor defensive team. That showed up in Saturday’s game. We had some great swings on the ball that they dug.”

The squandered late lead marks yet another game — and eventually a match — that the Utes let slip away after needing just two points to seal an advantage. The sting of losing game three was insurmountable as the Utes lost the match and walked away from a very disappointing and equally difficult road trip.

“I don’t feel like we’re very far away, we just need to get over that hump and win some close games and get a little bit of confidence,” Launiere said. “I still think we’re a good team and we’re close.”

One bright spot for the Utes was the continued play of Kat Haynie and Kate Robison. The junior and senior hitters, respectively, both collected double-doubles as Haynie led the team with 18 kills and Robison filled in defensively with 17 digs. Despite the loss and the multiple creases her team needs to iron out, Launiere decided her team could use a well-deserved rest on Monday to recuperate from the difficult road and practice schedules that the Utes have gone through in the past three weeks.

The Utes will resume practice on Tuesday in preparation for the always-dangerous Colorado State Rams, who invade Crimson Court this Friday.

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