Volleyball sweeps Air Force to stay tied for 3rd in MWC

By By Bubba Brown , Staff Writer

By Bubba Brown , Staff Writer

The Utah volleyball team held onto a third-place tie in the Mountain West Conference by sweeping Air Force 3-0 on Saturday.

Head coach Beth Launiere said wrapping up third place is a solid season with such a young team.

“Obviously, it’s not one of our better years,” she said. “If we can finish third in an off year, I’m pretty pleased.”

The first set with the Falcons was tied several times early on, until a kill by middle blocker Danielle Killpack gave the Utes a lead. With another kill by Killpack and a service ace by libero Keisha Fisher, Utah expanded the lead to 20-15. Outside hitter Cinthia Silva’s kill put Utah within a point of winning the set, and middle blocker Chelsey Sandberg finished them off 25-18.

“I thought we played well,” Launiere said. “Chelsey and Danielle had good matches.”

Once again, the Falcons were able to stick with the Utes early in the second set. They battled to tie the score at 11, but an Air Force error gave Utah a lead it didn’t relinquish. With the score 14-13, the Utes rattled off a 9-0 run, which included two kills by Killpack, to put the set out of reach. A rare kill by setter Abby Simmons ended the set 25-16.

The third set was back and forth the whole way. The Utes started fast in the set, scoring the first three points, but Air Force took the first lead at 11-10. The teams traded points the rest of the set until the Utes were one point away from losing the set at 25-24. A block by Killpack and an attack error by Air Force put the Utes in control. In a fitting end, Utah seniors Silva and Sandberg teamed up for a block to wrap up the set and match in their last conference match.

Ironically, the Utes finished the conference season with a win on the road, something that has eluded them this season. It will be a focus going into the future for Utah.

“We just need to learn to win on the road,” Launiere said.

Opposite hitter Karolina Bartkowiak connected on 10 kills in 14 tries without an error for a match-high .714 hitting percentage.

Thursday the Utes fell to San Diego State 3-1 (16-25, 24-26, 25-23, 21-25), despite a team-high 15 kills by outside hitter Sarah Hibbert. Hibbert’s performance also included a career-best .577 hitting percentage.

The Utes hit a respectable .288 in the match but were unable to slow down the Aztecs, who hit .296.

Killpack earned a team-high six blocks in the set, which registered as the 11th time she has led the team in blocks this season.

The Utes wrap up their regular season Saturday with a nonconference match at Long Beach State, which is listed as receiving votes in the AVCA Coaches Poll Top 25.

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