Utes to face Huskies in Sweet 16

By Paige Fieldsted, Staff Writer

The Utah women’s volleyball team is on the road to making history.

After a 24-5 regular season, the Utes handled the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament effortlessly as they swept both Furman and Clemson.

As just the second team in school history to make it to the Sweet 16, the Utes are looking to go where no Ute team has gone before.

“It’s awesome to be where a lot of teams haven’t been before,” said middle blocker Emillie Toone. “We’ve worked so hard to get here and we’re not done yet. We’re working to reach another milestone.”

Despite beginning the season with a 7-4 record, a shocking loss at the hands of the Wyoming Cowgirls gave the Utes the wake-up call they needed.

The Utes have gone 19-1 since the Wyoming loss back in September and credit their “game-by-game” approach for the turnaround.

“I think a lot of our success has to do with taking one game at a time and focusing on that,” Toone said. “We have increased our potential every day in practice, and because of it we are reaching new peaks every game.”

Utah’s next focus is the No. 4 seed Washington Huskies and former Ute Airial Salvo, who now stand in the way of Utah making it to the Elite Eight.

Salvo left the Utes in 2006 after being named to the second All-American team and helping the team earn a 28-4 season record.

“It is really meaningless that (Salvo) is on the Washington team,” said head coach Beth Launiere. “We all know it is there, but it is the past and we can’t dwell on it.”

Even though the Utes aren’t concerning themselves with Salvo’s presence on the Huskies, they are looking forward to the match and the opportunity to prove themselves as national competitors.

“We are excited to be able to show Washington that we have a great program here at Utah,” Toone said. “It’s motivating for us to be able to play with some of the top teams and show them we can compete.”

Although no one on the Utah roster has ever played in the third round of the NCAA tourney, the Utes are treating the matchup with Washington like any other game.

Scouting for the Huskies has already begun and Utah will be putting a game plan into practice this week, but the players are working hard to remind themselves it is just another match.

“It is obviously a big game, but if we overanalyze it and make it into something a lot bigger, we won’t come out and play like we want to,” said senior middle blocker Lori Baird.

While the team plans to prepare physically, some of the focus will be on mental preparation8212;for now, the Utes’ focus is studying their opponent.

As tournament time comes at the same time as finals, the volleyball team will keep its practices short to allow the team members more study time.

Utah will use its two short practices at Crimson Court this week to prepare as it always does before traveling to Seattle on Wednesday.

“We’ve got to get the players in class and get their tests and papers turned in,” Launiere said. “We’ll go into practice and work hard and start focusing on mental preparation a little later in the week.”

Utah will take on the Huskies on Friday at 7 p.m. MT.

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