Utes bust through to Sweet 16

By Paige Fieldsted, Staff Writer

The wins just keep on coming for the Utes.

The Utah women’s volleyball team extended its winning streak to 11 and kept its season alive as it swept both Furman and Clemson in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament to advance to the Sweet 16.

The Utes, who last year missed out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years, beat Furman 25-17, 26-24 and 25-17 in the first round Friday before defeating Clemson on their own floor 25-21, 26-24 and 25-21.

“We were very focused and motivated and determined to win and we stayed that way all weekend,” said head coach Beth Launiere. “We were absolutely focused and that showed.”

The Utes advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second time in school history and for the first time since 2001.

In the win over Furman on Friday, six Utah hitters combined for 43 kills and a .304 hitting percentage in a balanced attack..

“Our passing was great all weekend, which really keeps all of our options open,” said co-Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Lori Baird. “Everyone was on pretty much all weekend.”

Seniors Baird, Emillie Toone and Kathryn Haynie all had eight kills, while Chelsey Sandberg and Karolina Bartkowiak each added seven.

“Chelsey and Barto (Bartkowiak) really stepped up and that really opened things up for everyone else,” Baird said. “(Furman) didn’t know who to key in on.”

The seniors were also big in the match against Clemson, as they all had over 10 kills. Haynie earned a career-high .632 hitting percentage as she had 14 kills8212;Toone added 12 kills and Baird had 10.

“The seniors stepped up against Clemson,” Launiere said. “As always, it is different people at different times that are key for us.”

Defense was at the center of both of the wins for the Utes, as they dug 96 balls and blocked 16 in the six sets.

“We played great defense all weekend, as good as we have all season,” Launiere said. “We were quick to get to the ball.”

Baird and Toone led the block for Utah as they had nine and eight blocks, respectively, during the weekend.

Keisha Fisher led the floor defense with 21 digs against Furman and another 16 in the Clemson match.

“Keisha played great this weekend. She had a couple of good defensive matches and she got a lot of digs for us,” Launiere said.

Reaching the Sweet 16 was a big motivation for the team going into the first and second rounds of play.

“None of us have ever made it past the second round and we were on a mission,” Baird said. “We all came out fired up and ready to play.”

Utah will be looking to take that same passion and focus to Seattle, as it takes on the No. 4-seeded Washington Huskies on Friday in Sweet 16 action.

“You don’t get this far without being really excited, but these girls have worked so hard and they deserve it,” Launiere said.

If they win against Washington, the Utes will play the winner of the Nebraska-Michigan match.

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Tyler Cobb

Kathryn Haynie had 14 kills and 11 digs on Saturday as the Utes defeated Clemson to advance to the Sweet 16. The Utes will face Washington on Friday in Seattle, Wash.