Volleyball extends win streak

By By Bubba Brown

By Bubba Brown

The Utah volleyball team was able to stave off a third set comeback attempt to extend its conference winning streak with a sweep at UNLV on Thursday night.

The Utes have now won 18 conference games in a row, four this season, as they beat the Rebels 25-20, 25-16 and 25-23.

Leading two sets to none and up 18-12, it looked like the Utes would finish off the Rebels without much trouble. Consecutive scores by UNLV tightened the set, but a ball handling error by the Rebels again pushed the Utes’ lead to five. However, UNLV took four of the next five scores to move within two at 20-18. A kill by junior opposite hitter Bartkowiak extended Utah’s cushion to three, a lead that would hold until the Rebels scored consecutive points to move within one at 23-22. A kill by senior outside hitter Cinthia Silva moved Utah to within a point of securing the match, but the Rebels responded with a score to once again cut the lead to one. Sophomore outside hitter Sarah Hibbert put an exclamation point on the match, however, with the match-winning kill on the next play.

Coach Beth Launiere gave credit to the Utes’ preparation for the victory.

“I thought we had good preparation and focus,” she said. “We knew we wanted to get a win on the road.”

The opening portion of the first set was tight, with the two teams going back and forth until the score was tied at six. A block by senior middle blocker Chelsey Sandberg and sophomore outside hitter Jennifer Lanting gave the Utes a lead. Buoyed by four kills each by Lanting and Bartkowiak, Utah would eventually open up a five point lead that they would hang onto to win 25-20.

The Rebels scored the first two points of the second set, and eventually opened a 6-3 lead. Kills by Bartkowiak, Silva and sophomore middle blocker Danielle Killpack tied the match. Utah fell behind again at 10-7, but scored eight of the next nine points to take the lead for good. They went on to win the set 25-16, highlighted by three kills and three blocks by Killpack and four kills to go along with two blocks by Bartkowiak.

The Utes got strong performances both Bartkowiak and Silva during the match. Bartkowiak finished with a double-double, earning 11 kills with a .588 hitting percentage in addition to 10 digs and two blocks. Silva added eight kills with a .261 hitting mark, but Launiere said Silva contributed most with her passing.

“A lot of teams are serving her (Silva),” Launiere said. “She’s handling a high amount of serves. Tonight was maybe her best passing night of the season.”

Utah out-blocked the Rebels eight to four, continuing the blocking success the Utes have had in conference play.

“We worked hard at it (blocking) for about two weeks,” Launiere said. “It’s definitely gotten better.”

The Utes will take a break from Mountain West Conference play on Tuesday when Weber State travels to Crimson Court. Utah will get back to conference competition when they host TCU next Thursday.