Utes split weekend against Arizona teams

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— Courtesy of University of Utah Athletics

You win some and you lose some.
The Utes welcomed two ranked teams in Arizona and Arizona State, splitting the matches for a 1-1 weekend. Utah dropped the first match to No. 14 Arizona, 0-3, but pulled off an upset over then-No. 17-ranked Arizona State, 3-1.
In the match against the Wildcats, head coach Beth Launiere had some worries about Arizona’s deadly duo Madi Kingdon and Penina Snuka. And with good reason, as both Kingdon and Snuka played a huge part in the win over the Utes by each recording a double-double.
In the first set, Utah had an early 7-6 lead, but an Arizona 4-0 run made it a 7-10 game in the Wildcats’ favor. After that, the Utes couldn’t catch up, and Arizona went on to take the first set 21-25. Utah recorded four costly service errors in this set.
The second set proved to be more of a thriller. While it was close in the beginning, the Utes found themselves down 15-21 late in the set. That’s when Launiere decided to bring in Tess Sutton to match alongside libero Lea Adolph to serve and solidify the passing and defensive game.
With Sutton serving, the Utes rallied off a 5-0 run and got the crowd in Crimson Court going. Despite a Sutton service error that ended the run, Utah stayed in it until the very end. With the set tied at 23, Arizona then registered back-to-back points to take the second set and the 2-0 lead in the match.
The third set saw a similar storyline with the Utes down late in the set, 14-20. Yet again, Utah showed resiliency with a 9-2 run to give the Utes a 23-22 lead. They were looking to close out the set when the improbable happened. A Makenzie Moea’i hit that seemed like it would roll to the Arizona side rolled on top of the length of the net before eventually dropping on Utah’s side. The difference was in the width of the net, and Arizona went on to complete the sweep by winning the last two points.
Despite the loss, the Utes were still confident heading into their second tilt of the weekend against the Sun Devils, who has one of the best players in the conference in Macey Gardner.
“Every team has a really good player that gets a lot of kills and a lot of attempts,” said senior Shelby Dalton. “So we’re used to defending girls like that all the time.”
To open the match, Utah played its best set in two weeks as it went on an early 6-1 run. The Utes never looked back from there. Led by senior Bailey Bateman, the defense recorded five total team blocks. Bateman’s energy on the court was felt in the stands, and Crimson Court was the loudest it’s been all season.
“I just love blocking so much because it’s such a big part of the play. I’m really passionate about it,” Bateman said. “I had a lot of help from all of my pins, they were amazing.”
Behind the strong blocking performance, the Utes held the Sun Devils to 11 points the entire first set.
In the second set, Utah didn’t have the same energy they showed in the opening set. It was a back-and-forth set that saw the team split 20 straight points with 10 apiece. Unfortunately for the Utes, their play wasn’t as strong and Arizona tied the match up at 1-1 with a 20-25 second set victory. This was the first time in two weeks that Utah headed into the intermission without being down 2-0.
Both teams came out of the break battling to take the 2-1 lead in the match. Halfway through the third set, a 9-11 deficit for the Utes got worse as the Sun Devils went on a 4-1 run to send the match to a media timeout at 10-15. With Arizona State taking six out of the next 11 points, Utah was down 15-21 late in the set. The Utes closed the gap down to a single point, trailing 22-23 when Arizona State’s Mercedes Binns got a kill to give the Sun Devils set point and a change to take the match lead.
In previous matches, Launiere usually takes a timeout at this time to regroup with her team. However, this time around, the referee asked Launiere if she wanted one, and she declined.
“It was confidence in my team,” Launiere said.
Launiere’s confidence was justified, as the Utes took four straight points to win the set, including back-to-back kills from Trueman and Dalton once the set was tied at 24.
Heading into the fourth set, Utah could smell victory, but it didn’t come easy. Arizona State’s only lead came at 6-7, but the entire set was a shaky display for the Utes. With Utah up 24-19 and looking to close out its first Pac-12 win on the young conference season, the Utes were right there.
After the team dropped the next two points, Launiere decided to use a timeout, but it proved to be to no avail when Utah lost the next two points. This forced the head coach to use yet another timeout.
With the score at 23-24, the Utes had one more chance at match point before the Sun Devils would up the set. Chelsey Schofield-Olsen, senior outside hitter and season leader in kills, ended the match once and for all as she slammed home the match-clinching kill, winning the set 25-23.
Utah was led in kills and hitting percentage by freshman Adora Anae, as she got 17 kills on a .424 hitting percentage. Launiere said last week that Anae was a “terminator” and she needed to get the ball more to her star freshman.
Schofield-Olsen notched 15 kills, and fellow senior Dalton had 10 kills to go with her seven block assists. Adolph had 21 digs, which was two short of her career high, and gave praise to the girls in front of her.
“I really have to give credit to these guys [the blockers],” Adolph said. “It’s so much easier to read the hitters when the block is setup.”
Launiere was all smiles after the match and was brimming with pride for her team.
“I told the team in the locker room that we absolutely earned that win today,” Launiere said. “[Arizona State] did not give us anything, and we executed from start to finish. We had just a couple of lapses in set two, but other than that, we executed as well as you can.”
The Utes will next compete when they travel to southern California this weekend to face two more ranked teams in No. 20 UCLA and No. 19 USC.
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