Hibbert brings Alaska energy to Utah volleyball

By By Bubba Brown and By Bubba Brown

By Bubba Brown

She can play two instruments, is interested in politics and is considering a career as a foreign correspondent. Although Sarah Hibbert plays outside hitter for the Ute volleyball team, it’s clear her interests go past the court.

“I really like camping, skiing and anything outdoors,” Hibbert said. “It’s a lot like Utah because of the things to do outdoors.”

Talking to Hibbert, it’s obvious that Alaska is a big part of who she is, as she speaks glowingly of her home state.

“It’s where my parents met and where I grew up,” Hibbert said. “It’s gorgeous up there. There are so many things to do outdoors. The people are casual and very friendly. We’re pretty proud of Alaska.”

Teammate Abby Simmons, who shared a dorm room with Hibbert last year, said she has a unique personality.

“Sarah has a lot of different sides,” Simmons said. “She is definitely a lot of fun and extremely funny. She is also smart and extremely hard-working and studious. She’s always reading a book.”

“I’m just like a lot of other college athletes,” Hibbert said. “I get up early to work out and go to class. I practice with the team and do my schoolwork just like any other athlete.”
Her hard-working character will certainly help the sophomore in accounting accomplish her lofty career goals of working internationally.

Hibbert began playing volleyball in the seventh grade and continued throughout high school, where she was the top player in Alaska. Hibbert was named the Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year in both 2006 and 2007. She was also selected twice as a high school All-American volleyball player by prepvolleyball.com.

She was then recruited to play at Utah, a process head coach Beth Launiere said was made easy.

“I made two trips to Alaska,” Launiere said. “One was to evaluate Sarah and one was for a home visit. We were aware of her, and she was aware of the program. It was great. She played middle in high school, but we discussed moving her to outside.”

Once again demonstrating her willingness to work hard, Hibbert graduated from high school early so she could enroll at the U and begin practicing with the team in the spring rather than in the fall like most incoming freshmen.

Hibbert said she has enjoyed her time as a Ute.

“I just really like the Utah school spirit,” she said. “Knowing other athletes that play different sports is really fun, too.”

Last year during her freshman season, Hibbert got valuable experience under her belt. She started four matches on the year, and played in 15 total. In 23 sets, she hit 19 kills, tallied 34 digs and had eight blocks.

This season, Hibbert has established herself as one of the main offensive threats. She has smashed 139 kills, leading the team, and is averaging 2.96 kills per set, which ranks sixth in the Mountain West Conference. She has notched double-digit kills seven times this season and has led the Utes in six matches. She also has 17 blocks on the year.
Launiere said Hibbert’s solid play is a by-product of believing in herself.

“She’s playing with much more confidence,” Launiere said. “We tried to put her in a position to be as successful as possible. We’re depending on her for kills. I’m really happy and pleased with her.”

Simmons said Hibbert brings a lot to the table for the Utes.

“I think that she brings a lot of experience,” Simmons said. “She was one of the top players in Alaska. She’s had a lot of experience with leadership. She is really reliable on the court and able to do a lot of things with the ball. As an outside hitter, sometimes the sets aren’t always good and she does a good job handling those.”

Signaling what was to come, Hibbert started the year with consecutive strong performances. She set a then-career high with seven kills in the season’s first match against Arizona State. She followed up that performance with another, increasing her then-career high to 10 kills to go along with four blocks and a .381 hitting percentage to lead the team over UC-Riverside.

Hibbert’s best performances of the year have come in back-to-back matches against Missouri in the Utah Valley Tournament and against Utah State. She torched the Tigers for 17 kills with a .400 hitting percentage. Three days later, she upped her career high to 21 kills, which is the most for a Utah player this season, while also collecting nine digs against the Aggies.

Her performances have been partially because of the rhythm that Hibbert and her setter, Simmons, have developed.

“I think it has to do with me and her communicating so well,” said Simmons of the duo’s synergy.

Another aspect of Sarah’s game is her ability to keep teammates positive. She can often be seen giving encouragement to the other players.

Senior middle blocker Chelsey Sandberg said that’s one of her biggest impacts on the team.

“If someone messes up, Sarah is always right there with encouragement,” said Sandberg.

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Thien Sok

Sophmore Sarah Hibbert leads the team and is sixth in the conference in kills at 139. As one of the top players in Alaska during high school, she brings a lot of skill, confidence and leadership to the court.