Utes enter new arena looking to take down Golden Bears, Stanford


With a new court, new lights, a winless team and the number one team in the nation, Utah is in for an interesting weekend when it hosts winless California on Friday evening and No.1 Stanford on Sunday afternoon.
Friday’s game will see the Utes back in the Jon M. Huntsman Center for the first time this season after renovations to the arena. The renovations included a new court design, a new lighting system and curtains that are used cover the upper bowl of the arena.
Head coach Beth Launiere and her team are fans of the new design, but the team knows that in the end, the design has no effect on the game.
The lighting, however, does. With the old cloud hanging above the court, the lights were directly above the players, but now that the cloud has been removed, the new lighting outlines the court and won’t bother the players as they look up for the ball.
As much as the lighting change will improve the quality of the volleyball being played, the new curtains are set to make the arena look smaller and more intimate. Volleyball couldn’t sell out a 15,000-seat arena so it always looked really empty seeing the upper deck with no one in it. The new curtain system drops black curtains down to cover the entire top section of the arena, creating a much more daunting look for opponents.
“The curtain definitely makes it seem smaller, not so giant,” said senior Shelby Dalton. “It’s really cool the changes they made. The new court looks really nice, I’m just excited to be back in here.”
Launiere described the “style” side of the curtain more than the atmosphere it creates.
“I think the curtain is just a really classy look,” Launiere said. “[The Huntsman Center’s] already a classic venue, but I think [the curtain] just gives it a good look.”
Launiere wasn’t a big fan of moving to the Huntsman Center last year as she had so much history at Crimson Court, but said the program had to relocate for recruiting reasons. Every other Pac-12 school plays its volleyball matches in big arenas so Utah had to follow suit. The Utes even have an advantage over most of the other schools as the Huntsman Center is the biggest arena in the conference.
The Utes will host recruits every home weekend for the rest of the season explained Launiere.
“We had [recruits] in here last year and [the Huntsman Center] was a big selling point for us,” Launiere said. “People came in here and were really awed by this arena. I think it’s such a great classic venue, it’s beautiful.”
The Utes are desperate for a win after unsuccessful outings in California, but are optimistic about their chances against a winless Cal team. The Bears are one of two teams without a win in Pac-12 play, along with Washington State.
“Everybody is good, but absolutely we like the matchup. I think everybody knows that this is a match we gotta’ go get a win from,” Launiere said.
With No. 1 Stanford looming just two days after the Golden Bears, Launiere said that the team hasn’t even talked of the Cardinal, focusing on taking care of business on Friday first. While the coaches have done their part and scouted Stanford, Launiere said that they won’t even give the players the scouting report until Saturday, a day after the Utes match with Cal.
As great as Stanford is, Utah says they won’t be scared of the Cardinal’s prestige.
“We just have to go in there and play our game and just think they’re another team,” Dalton said. “We can’t look at the stats, numbers or their ranking.”
Utah has only beaten Stanford once in nine meetings and that win came in September of 2000, when the Utes hosted the Cardinal at Crimson Court. Despite playing the underdog against the then-No.1 Stanford squad, the Utes upset the Cardinal in five sets in a thrilling comeback after being down 2-0 to start the match. To this day, this marks the only time that Utah has ever beaten a No. 1-ranked opponent in its team’s history.
The Utes look to recapture some of that old magic on a new court starting this Friday against Cal. The match will start at 6:00 p.m. MT.
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