Utes struggle for consistency in conference play


— Preston Zubal

Utah’s first two conference matches started poorly, with the Utes falling behind their opponents 0-2 in the first two sets. Putting a finger on why those matches had slow starts has been the tough part.
After the Colorado match last Thursday, head coach Beth Launiere said the team was passing poorly and committing too many unforced errors. Once the Utes fell behind Oregon State 0-2 on Saturday, Launiere said the passing was good, but this time the Utes just weren’t able to get kills.
Senior middle blocker Bailey Bateman offered an explanation for the team’s sluggish starts.
“I think we were playing a little flat,” Bateman said. “We just didn’t have it in the first two games. That wasn’t Utah volleyball.”
Fellow senior Makenzie Moea’i had a different outlook on the situation.
“I think we are just overthinking a lot of stuff and being a little tentative,” Moea’i said. “We gotta start strong and finish off even stronger.”
In the match against Oregon State, Utah actually looked alright in the first set, losing 26-24 after possessing a 23-21 lead. But in the second set against the Beavers, the Utes couldn’t get anything going, and senior Lea Adolph thinks there might have been a bit of a hangover after not being able to close out the first set.
“I think we were kind of sad about losing the first set because we were so close,” Adolph said.
Together they play, get out of the way
During the match against Colorado where the Utes saw lackluster passing, Launiere decided the team needed a change. During the intermission, the head coach decided to make two key substitutions. Launiere brought on Adolph for sophomore libero Tess Sutton and Moea’i for freshman Eliza Katoa.
The two changes made by Launiere meant that all six of this year’s seniors were playing at the same time.
Adolph and Moea’i joined fellow seniors Shelby Dalton, Chelsey Schofield-Olsen, Kalee Kirby and Bateman.
“I think the lineup now is more experienced and we all communicate well,” Moea’i said. “We needed something that clicked, and when I came in for the Colorado game, I think the energy changed.”
It would be impossible for the six to be on the court together the whole time. There were rotations where freshman Adora Anae came in, redshirt freshman Carly Trueman entered the game for Bateman, and junior setter Kendall Cygan replaced Kirby.
The seniors know they can’t get complacent as they say Launiere picks her team depending on the performance of each individual in practice and not so much on in-game performance.
“It really depends on how practices go, Beth [Launiere] usually chooses the lineup from who’s playing successfully at practice,” Bateman said. “I don’t know if it’s for certain in the future, but it’s what is working now.”
Improvements must be made
Despite a poor start to conference play, the seniors are confident that the team can turn around their play on the court as they look forward to Arizona and Arizona State this weekend. The Wildcats are No. 14 in the newest edition of the AVCA Coaches poll, while the Sun Devils are No. 17.
“Every single team in the Pac-12 is good, every single night it’s a toss-up of who could win,” Bateman said. “It’s going to be tough. These aren’t crippling losses, we can come back from this.”
Adolph said the team needs to improve their consistency and treat this week’s practices as games.
“We showed up this weekend, but not consistently, and that’s why we lost,” Adolph said. “We are gonna go hard at practice, prepare for their tendencies and be ready to go on Friday night.”
The Utes will get their first chance to go hard at practice on Tuesday afternoon as Launiere gave the team a day off on Monday.
[email protected]