Volleyball hoping to make history

- File Photo

Historically, the Jon M. Huntsman Center is recognized for its basketball prestige, including hosting 81 NCAA men’s basketball tournament games, which is enough to be third most in the country. The most famous matchup of the 81 games was the 1979 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, which featured Larry Bird’s Indiana State versus Magic Johnson’s Michigan State for the title.

The Huntsman Center opened on Nov. 30, 1969 with the idea of hosting men’s and women’s basketball games, but just a few years later, the gymnastics team started to compete there as well. The arena has hosted nine gymnastics national championships in its time.

In 2013, the venue welcomed in the volleyball team on a permanent basis, steering the squad away from its previous home, Crimson Court. With all the history and success the Huntsman has seen from basketball and gymnastics, the volleyball team hopes to make some history of its own.

All of the volleyball team’s history happened within the confines of Crimson Court. Despite being located adjacent to the Huntsman, most people on campus don’t even know where Crimson Court is (bottom floor of HPER East).

The cozier Crimson Court opened on Sept. 9, 1994 with a win against Montana State. Winning at Crimson Court became a regular thing for the Utes over the next two decades as they compiled a 189-63 overall record, good enough for a .750 winning percentage through the 2012 season. That winning percentage was one of the best in the country during that span.

Head coach Beth Launiere has been at the helm of Utah volleyball longer than Crimson Court has been on campus. She said that it took her awhile to get comfortable with the idea of moving out of her home and over to the Huntsman Center.

“There’s been a lot of awesome history at Crimson Court and a lot of big wins,” Launiere said. “I struggled with the move at first.”

Launiere has taken the Utes to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances from the comfort of Crimson Court, including a 2001 trip that hosted the two opening rounds of the NCAA tournament.

In the second round of that tournament, the Utes faced in-state rival Utah State. The Utes took down the Aggies in four sets and advanced to their first Sweet 16. While this moment will go down as one of the head coach’s favorites, another great moment was an upset win over then-No. 1 Stanford in September of 2000.

“We were down 0-2 and Stanford had just gotten their No. 1 ranking that day,” Launiere said. “A bunch of people left Crimson Court. We came back and won in five. It was crazy.”

Another special moment came when Launiere recorded her 400th win. As a coach, winning that many games is memorable enough, but when number 400 happens to be against rival BYU, the moment is that much sweeter. Utah was 2-0 and down 24-20 in the third set before forcing a fourth set in a miraculous comeback. Utah went on to win the fourth and fifth sets to clinch the monumental victory.

When Utah switched to the Pac-12, the move from Crimson Court to the Huntsman Center made a lot of sense to Launiere, despite her sentimental connection with the former.

“One, I think we needed to do it for recruiting and two, we just had to get used to playing in big arenas,” she said. “It is just too different going from Crimson Court to a big arena. Then once we got into the Huntsman Center, we ended up really, really loving it. It’s really a nice venue.”

Launiere says the quality of game is much better in the Huntsman Center because the ball isn’t hitting the ceiling, and you have much more space to pursue the ball. However, the head coach will never forget where the program made so many memories.

“I will always love Crimson Court,” Launiere said.

Due to renovations being done to the Huntsman, the Utes have been playing their matches at Crimson Court, but are looking forward to moving back to the HC. Utah’s first conference home match is set for Oct. 3, but the Utes are still unsure where it will be played.

Before they can figure that out, the Utes will have to travel to Boulder, CO. to compete in their first Pac-12 match of the season against Colorado on Thursday evening. In the preseason coaches poll, the Buffaloes were picked to finish ahead of Utah, despite the Utes going 3-2 against them since both schools joined the Pac-12. The Utes are looking to prove everyone wrong.

“I don’t think the Pac-12 has a lot of faith in us,” said senior Kalee Kirby.

The match is scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m. MT at the Coors Event Center.

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@BenJasarevic