Utah finishes with lowest ranking in 13 years

By By Bubba Brown

By Bubba Brown

The 2009 volleyball season resulted in something that doesn’t happen very often at Utah8212;being left out of the NCAA Tournament.

The team finished with a 17-12 overall record and sported a 10-6 mark in Mountain West Conference matches, which left it in a tie with New Mexico for third place.

“I felt like we took a little bit of a step back,” said head coach Beth Launiere. “We didn’t get it done in the end of the season. Utah volleyball normally does.”

Opposite hitter Karolina Bartkowiak said the Utes were too inconsistent this season.
“This year, we had a lot of ups and downs,” she said.

Throughout the season, Utah was plagued by lapses, which Launiere credited to a lack of mental toughness.

“Physically, we got as good as we could have, but mentally, we didn’t,” she said.

Despite the sporadic play, the season was certainly not without its share of highlight moments. Perhaps the biggest highlight of the year was beating rival BYU twice, both in thrilling finishes. The Utes trailed 2-1 and had to fend off several match points in the fourth set of their first win over the Cougars at Crimson Court. The victory gave Launiere her 400th career win. One month later, the Utes fell behind 2-0 in Provo but came back to take the next three sets to steal the win.

The Utes captured the Utah Classic to start off the year. The team swept both Arizona State and UC Riverside and beat Cincinnati in five sets to win the tournament.
Another high point for the Utes this season was when they beat TCU 3-1 to notch their 19th consecutive conference win dating back to last season, which tied a school record.

In the end, the team’s inability to win matches toward the end of the season was its undoing. After finishing the first half of the conference schedule with a 6-2 mark, the Utes went just 4-4 in the second half, a stretch that included a three-match losing streak, a season high.

Despite the poor finish, Launiere said when she takes a step back and looks at the season, it wasn’t too bad.

“One thing I have to realize is that third is the lowest we’ve been in 13 years,” she said. “If that’s the worst we can do in 13 years, that’s not bad.”

Two Utes were honored with postseason awards, as Bartkowiak and middle blocker Chelsey Sandberg were each named to the All-Mountain West Conference Team.
“I’m always happy for players to get recognized for the hard work they put into the team,” Launiere said. “Karolina and Chelsey were leaders and go-to players all season for our team and deserve this award.”

Bartkowiak said she felt the award was a team distinction.

“It’s nice that you get recognized,” she said. “But if it wasn’t for my team and my setters, I would never have gotten this. I’m really happy for the award, but very thankful for my teammates.”

Next season, the Utes will enter with more experience, as they will lose only two seniors, Sandberg and outside hitter Cinthia Silva.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Bartkowiak said. “We have a lot of experience going into next year.”

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