Utes to challenge 6-0 Oregon team

By By Bubba Brown

By Bubba Brown

When the Utah volleyball team gets a visit from No. 12 Oregon on Tuesday night, it will encounter perhaps its biggest challenge of the season.

The Ducks enter the match 6-0 and have only lost one set all season8212;a narrow loss in the second set against Portland State in their most recent game.

U head coach Beth Launiere and her squad are undaunted by the challenge.
“I believe we can beat anyone, especially at Crimson Court,” Launiere said. “We’ll be ready for them. We played them tough in Eugene last year.”

The Ducks will enter Crimson Court with a balanced offensive attack. Three Oregon players are averaging more than 2.8 kills per set8212;among them 2008 All-American Honorable Mention and All-Pac-10 First Team selection Sonja Newcombe.

The senior outside hitter leads Oregon with 3.28 kills per set and has hit for a .313 percentage. Fellow outside hitter junior Heather Meyers has compiled 2.94 kills per set with 14 errors for a .400 percentage. Rounding out the offensive trio for the Ducks is senior middle blocker Neticia Enesi. Enesi has chipped in 2.83 kills per set with only six errors for a .556 hitting percentage.

As a team, Oregon is hitting for a .355 hitting percentage, good enough to lead the Pac-10. The Ducks also lead their conference in service aces per set with 3.21.

The gaudy numbers Oregon possesses don’t end with its offense; it has posted similarly impressive defensive numbers. Five regulars have accumulated at least .80 blocks per set on the year, as opposed to Utah, which has only two similarly qualifying players.

Enesi leads Oregon in blocks with 26 and has averaged 1.44 per set. Nevena Djordjevic is second on the team in blocks with 18, and Newcombe and sophomore outside hitter Dana Stephenson have each collected 16.

Oregon brings with it the experience earned through being part of the conference that many feel is the best in the country, and the polls back up that perception. Seven members of the Pac-10 are ranked in the AVCA Coaches Poll, including three teams in the Top 10 as well as No. 25 Arizona, who swept the Utes on Friday night.

After winning its first four matches, Utah has encountered a tough stretch, losing four of its past six games, including two losses this weekend. By hitting .055 against Arizona and .173 against Santa Clara, the offense hit under .200 for the first time this season.
Despite the cold spell, Launiere said the offense will be OK.

“I think we’re fine,” she said. “We’ve got to play with a little bit more confidence.”

Tuesday’s match is the last preseason tune-up for the Utes, as they begin conference play by welcoming Air Force to Crimson Court on Thursday. The Utes will enter conference play as the defending Mountain West Conference champions and were selected to repeat in the preseason Coaches Poll.

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Lennie Mahler

Jennifer Lanting blocks an attempted kill earlier this season at Crimson Court. The Utes will host No. 12 Oregon tonight in what could be their biggest challenge of the season.