Deadly duos among the Utes prepare for back-to-back Arizona games


— Chris Ayers

Even though volleyball is a team sport, the Utes have been focusing on a pair of duos lately.
A good, powerful kill cannot happen without a good set. If the set is low, the hitter usually hits the ball flat and far out past the baseline — if the set is high, then the hitter is forced to reach and can’t get a lot of force behind the strike. But when the ball is set just right, the hitter is able to propel the ball straight into the ground, giving the opponent a slim chance of digging the hit.
Freshman hitter Adora Anae and junior setter Kendall Cygan have made their connection click in a short period of time.
With Utah running a 6-2 formation, Anae and Cygan come into the match at the same time. Head coach Beth Launiere uses a double switch which allows Anae to enter the match in place of the setter while Cygan enters in for the hitter. This way Launiere always has a hitter and setter exactly where she wants them.
“She’s probably my best friend on the team,” Cygan said of Anae. “When I get her in my rotation we connect even better.”
Anae described a strong relationship with her setter as “prime.”
The pair had a different incident in practice on Wednesday when Anae was late to a block on defense and the ball went through her hands before hitting Cygan smack in the face.
Cygan didn’t say anything at the moment, but she called her own number on the next point and put the ball over the net for a kill instead of setting one of her hitters.
“I was upset, and I couldn’t see,” Cygan said. “I was frustrated, so I was trying to put it back in their faces.”
There should be a little more cooperation between the two come match time Friday.
Another pair of players who are involved in a different circumstance are liberos Lea Adolph and Tess Sutton. Adolph has started every Pac-12 match and was nominated for Pac-12 Player of the Week twice in a row heading into last weekend.
However, Adolph struggled in the Utes’ last two matches and was benched in each after just two sets for Sutton. Launiere has been reluctant to name a starter before game time against Arizona State on Friday, but she thinks the competition for the starting position will benefit the team.
“We are competing and staying together,” Sutton said.
Despite a sluggish losing performance last time out against the worst team in the Pac-12 at Washington State, the Utes are confident they can get a victory against No. 19 Arizona State. Utah upset the Sun Devils earlier this year at Crimson Court in four sets.
There isn’t another team in the Pac-12 that Utah matches up with as nicely as Arizona State. The Utes have taken five straight meetings against the Sun Devils and are looking to improve their streak to six on Friday night.
“We won’t do anything majorly different against them, and they won’t do anything majorly different against us,” Launiere said. “It’s all about who shows up.”
This weekend features a rare back-to-back for Utah playing Friday and Saturday instead of Friday and Sunday.
“When we were in the Mountain West we didn’t even think twice about playing back-to-back,” Launiere said. “With how much we have to expend to try to win a match in the Pac-12, it’s a little bit tougher.”
Utah will face No. 15 Arizona on Saturday, a team that swept Utah when it visited Crimson Court earlier this season.
The Utes start the weekend off against Arizona State at 7 p.m. in Tempe on Friday night.
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