Rams could halt Utes’ Mountain West ascent

By By Bubba Brown, Staff Writer

By Bubba Brown, Staff Writer

The margin of error for the Utah volleyball team is small if it is to climb back into the conference title picture.

So small, in fact, that one Utah loss or one victory by Colorado State will eliminate the Utes from contention.

The Utes are hoping to avoid that fate when the Rams visit Crimson Court tonight.

Head coach Beth Launiere said the Utes will have to play better offensively if they are to defeat the Rams.

“We have to put up better offensive numbers,” she said. “I showed the team the numbers from the last few matches so they could see it in black and white.”

On their recent road trip, the Utes had hitting percentages of .114 and .170 against New Mexico and TCU. The Utes have won just two matches this season with hitting percentages lower than the .170 they posted against TCU.

Launiere said the offensive woes are not a product of not working hard.

“It’s not a lack of trying or effort,” she said. “The girls still practice hard every day.”

One player who was able to avoid the dip in offensive numbers is opposite hitter Karolina Bartkowiak. The junior led the team in both matches last week with 3.50 kills per set with a .239 hitting percentage. For the season, Bartkowiak is averaging 3.04 kills per set and is sixth in the conference with 3.24 kills per set in Mountain West matches.

The Rams come into the match with a 12-1 record in Mountain West play. Their only conference blemish came on the road against TCU.

Launiere said the Rams’ size and athleticism make them potent.

Outside hitter Danielle Minch has both for the Rams. The 6-foot-2-inch junior leads Colorado State in kills per set with 3.64. Outside hitter Jacque Davisson is next, averaging 2.74 kills per set.

Defensively, Colorado State has two players averaging more than a block per set. Middle blocker Tessa Nelson leads the team with 1.30 blocks per set, while outside hitter Megan Plourde has tallied 1.05.

In the first meeting between these teams on Oct. 17, Utah lost a three-set decision to the Rams. The Utes were held to a hitting percentage of just .078, despite a double-double from setter Abby Simmons.

Setter Stephanie Neeley said the Utes will have to play one of their best games to compete with the Rams.

“We have to hit probably our best game of the season,” she said. “We have to have offensive kills, but we also have to stop their players because they are one of the top teams in hitting percentage in the conference.”

For the Utes to overtake the Rams in the conference standings, they cannot falter the rest of the way, while BYU and UNLV must beat Colorado State in the Rams’ final conference matches.

Also ahead of Utah is TCU, who is two games ahead of the Utes with four games to play.
The Utes will conclude their home schedule on Saturday against Wyoming in the second half of the two-match homestand.

Last time against Wyoming, the Utes escaped with a five-set victory, after being down 2-1, and trailing 24-22 in the fourth set.

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