Utes get rid of hiccups

If the U volleyball team’s 3-1 loss to No. 22 New Mexico State on Wednesday was a few step back for the Utes, Friday’s sweep of New Mexico proved to be a step back in the right direction. A step of Emillie Toone proportions.

The Utes 3-0 (33-31, 30-28, 31-29) win Saturday extended their MWC winning streak to four games and proved that their memories are as short as their resolve is strong.

“I just felt like we played with a lot more composure,” head coach Beth Launiere said. “That was a big issue for me tonight. We didn’t let our opponent dictate our emotional state.”

Against New Mexico State on Wednesday the Utes came out flat and struggled to find a flow or much consistency. The story was exactly the opposite for the U volleyball team on Friday night. Team chemistry was there from the beginning. The Utes’ passing game-and overall ball control-was much improved and their defense was extra crisp.

“Our team worked hard tonight, Launiere said. “They were into it. I don’t even think we were even looking at the score that much, that’s how focused we were.”

Despite one of their best games of the season, the Utes did not have as easy a time with the Lobos as the final score would suggest. Even the most lopsided game of the match-game one-proved to be a tense crusade for both teams. With the Utes owning a six-point lead and sitting on game point, the Lobos used a series of kills and Ute errors to claw their way back to 29-29.

New Mexico even managed to take a 31-30 lead later before the Utes secured the win with two Whitney Webb kills and a misplayed Lobo pass of a Connie Dangerfield serve.

The Lobos defense didn’t quit despite the comeback that fell short.

“New Mexico did a great job,” Launiere said. “Great defense…(they) really competed hard.”

With each game being so close, many times it was just a matter of which team held their composure the longest and seized the momentum the most, particularly during the numerous extended rallies.

“It’s always fun to get in long rallies because it’s a defensive battle,” Dangerfield said. “When you get in those long rallies it’s because you’ve worked hard and earned that point.”

The Utes also managed to seize control with a significant advantage they had in the middle. With New Mexico opting to focus their blocking pattern to the outside and opposite side hitters, the Utes took control of the one-on-one situation in the middle primarily due to the precise assists from setters Keisha Fisher and Stephanie Shardlow, and the big swings from middle blockers Lori Baird and Chelsea Sandberg.

“I tell you, I need to give credit to those setters,” Launiere said. “Our setters got the ball to our middles unbelievably well tonight. They’re doing a great job.”

The performance from Baird is not a surprise as she has been consistently been a force on the blocking and killing side of things for the Utes. The emergence of Sandberg, however, was a welcome site that proved to be huge for the Utes in the end.

“Honestly for Chelsea Sandberg, that was a career match for her,” Launiere said. “She’s really been working hard and now she’s getting time.”

Sandberg’s career night included 10 kills, three digs, four block assists and a sizzling .562 hitting percentage. Baird managed nine kills, a .350 hitting percentage and nine block assists.

Dangerfield also returned to a familiar form as she flung her body all over the court and managed to keep nearly everything she touched in play. The Ute senior-who recently broke the Utes’ all-time dig record-finished with 17 in the game and was instrumental in the Lobos .122 hitting percentage.

“I think I was reading the ball a lot better than I have been for the past week or so,” Dangerfield said. “The blockers were just setting up really well to just give me opportunities.”

The win improved the Utes conference record to 4-2, brought their overall record to within a win of the .500 mark. The Utes have a chance to extend their MWC win streak to five and bring that record even against TCU on Saturday night. The match is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

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