Rivalry continues with women’s volleyball

No offense to the spirit of the rivalry, but capturing Deseret Duel points will probably be the last thing on the U volleyball team’s mind tonight.

The Utes will absolutely be trying to land their school the three points that are on the line against BYU. The effort will just be an indirect result of the Utes’ attempt at beating their biggest rival and restoring a few points to the team’s ego.

“Obviously its a big match and we want to win it,” head coach Beth Launiere said. “There would be a lot of benefits from winning that match.”

Perhaps even more beneficial than the confidence boost is the way a win could affect the Utes’ seed in the upcoming MWC Tournament.

Utah, who is currently 7-6 in conference play, has two more losses than the Cougars. A win by Utah tonight would decrease that deficit by one with just two matches remaining. Given the fact that BYU closes the regular season against the 11-2 UNLV Rebels gives Utah at least a fighter’s chance at leap-frogging the Cougars if they can come away with a win in Provo.

Take special notice to the word “if.”

While Utah hasn’t allowed BYU to sweep the regular season meetings between the two teams in over seven years, Utah also hasn’t had this much trouble capturing wins in that timeframe, either.

Utah won’t rely on any grand change in plans from the last time these two teams met — which resulted in a 3-1 BYU win on Oct. 12 — but the Utes have made a few modifications since.

Recently, Utah has favored Connie Dangerfield and Kate Robison doing most of the serve receiving for two reasons. Primarily, this frees up Kat Haynie to do what she does best — which is collect kills. Secondly, with the seniors handling the passing responsibilities, Keisha Fisher and Stephanie Shardlow are consistently put in better positions to set all three hitting options. While serving isn’t exactly a modification the Utes have made, it is something Beth Launiere and the Utes will count if they want to disrupt the proficiency of the Cougar offense.

“If (BYU) is in system its very difficult,” Launiere said. “We’ve got to serve tough, get them out of system. If we serve well…that helps us a lot.”

One hitch in the Utes’ game plan might be the unavailability of freshman Karolina Bartkowiak. In addition to being one of the Utes’ best blockers, she also has a slide shot that is quickly becoming near-unstoppable. Bartkowiak’s foot injury might take away that option and give the Utes little choice but to change around their offense a bit.

“We ran a 5-1 last weekend so that could happen,” Launiere said. “We’ll go with a game time decision and hope she can play.”

On the sidelines, tonight’s game will certainly feel like a rivalry game. On the court is a different story. Although both sides will undoubtedly be playing their hearts out, there certainly isn’t the same angst that exists when other BYU/Utah teams face one another.

“It’s definitely fun knowing this could be one of the last times I play my friends, especially Erica (Lott) and Jenna (Judkins) because I’ve played with them for so long,” Dangerfield said.

The opening serve is set for 7 p.m.

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