Volleyball working to defend winning streak

By By Bubba Brown

By Bubba Brown

The Utah volleyball team will look to defend two winning streaks when it takes on TCU at Crimson Court tonight at 7 p.m.

The Utes have won five matches in a row, a season high, and are riding an 18-match conference winning streak, dating back to 2008.

To bolster both streaks, the Utes will focus on blocking to stop TCU’s offensive attack.

“We’ve been focusing on that a ton in practice,” said senior middle blocker Chelsey Sandberg. “We’ve done a lot of middle blocking and work on getting in holes better.”

The Horned Frogs have won four of their first five Mountain West Conference games and are 15-4 overall.

One of Utah’s main challenges will be to contain defending MWC Co-Player of the Week Kourtney Edwards. The senior middle blocker has hit at a .413 clip and leads the Horned Frogs with 3.43 kills per set. Last week, Edwards had 15 kills and a .789 hitting percentage in a victory over Air Force and 16 kills with a .429 hitting mark to help TCU over San Diego State.

TCU’s other primary offensive catalyst is junior middle blocker Christy Hudson. The preseason all-conference selection has averaged 2.33 kills per set and hit for a .288 percentage.

Head coach Beth Launiere compared Hudson to Utah’s junior opposite hitter Karolina Bartkowiak and complimented her style of play.

“She plays similar to Bartkowiak;

she makes it tough to defend on the right side,” Launiere said. “She plays very maturely. She’s been very tough since she was a freshman.”

The Horned Frogs have three players who have collected at least .80 blocks per set. Sophomore middle blocker Kristen Hester leads the squad with 1.22 blocks per set, Edwards has 1.04 per set, and Hudson rounds out the trio with .88 per set.

Another Horned Frog player to watch is libero Katelyn Blackwood. The senior was named to the preseason all-conference team and has averaged 4.01 digs per set.

Although the Utes will attempt to make TCU their 19th straight conference victim, Launiere didn’t pin down one ingredient that has made the team successful during the conference run.

“I don’t know if there’s any one thing, to be honest,” Launiere said.

The Utes are 10-2 all time against the Horned Frogs and have won the past three meetings in the series.

Utah is coming off a four-set victory over in-state rival Weber State that saw Sandberg smash a career-high record in kills with 14, and Bartkowiak hit .800 on 17 kills.

Despite the victory, the Utes struggled at times against the Wildcats.

“It all comes down to preparation and focus,” she said. “When we were into the match, we played well.”

Next on the slate for Utah is a home match against New Mexico on Saturday, followed by a trip to Laramie to meet Wyoming.

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Lennie Mahler

The Ute volleyball team has been practicing blocking skills in preparation for its match against TCU tonight at Crimson Court.