Utes fail to stop losing streak in weekend matches with ASU, Arizona State


— Chris Ayers

The Utes were in Arizona over the weekend looking to stop a three-game skid, but the losing streak extended even further as Utah dropped matches to both Arizona State and Arizona.
Starting in Tempe on Friday, Utah squared off against the No. 19 Sun Devils, whom the Utes have won five straight meetings against heading into the match. Arizona State went up 2-0 after the first two sets, but after the intermission Utah bounced back and forced a fifth set, in which the Utes lost 15-13.
In the beginning of the first set, the Sun Devils jumped out to an early 7-2 lead. The Utes’ struggles continued throughout the set, and they found themselves down 21-11. A late 6-1 run by Utah brought the game to 22-17, but it was to no avail as the Sun Devils still won the set 25-19.
Thanks to a strong finish in the first set, the Utes felt as if they had the momentum heading into the second one, despite losing early on.
“The consensus in the locker room after was that we had good energy, but we didn’t execute at a high enough level,” said head coach Beth Launiere.
The momentum carried Utah throughout the second set, as they didn’t trail Arizona State until 20-19. However, once the Sun Devils took their first lead, they never looked back, as they ended the set on a 6-2 run for a 25-21 win.
“It wasn’t like we were playing horrible, but we weren’t playing good enough,” Launiere said. “We felt like we should’ve had at least one set under our belt.”
Coming out of intermission, the Utes were executing well on offense as they ran away from Arizona State early, and despite the Sun Devils’ efforts to come back late in the set, the Utes won the set comfortably, 25-16.
The fourth set was a tight battle, as neither team led by more than three points, and 46 points later, Utah and Arizona State were tied at 23. At that point, freshman Adora Anae got back-to-back kills to close out the set and force a fifth one for the Utes, 25-23.
A hard-fought battle in the fifth set went back and forth from 7-7 to 13-12 for the Sun Devils without either team winning consecutive points. At that exact 13-12 mark, a big hit from Utah saw an Arizona State player try to dig the ball, but it went backwards all the way to the end of the arena and seemed like a sure point for the Utes. However, an impressive retrieval by Arizona State’s Macey Gardner saw the ball come back to Utah’s side. The two teams continued the rally for over a minute, but in the end Mercedes Binns got the kill for the Sun Devils.
“I literally thought we had it, I thought we had won the point and I was surprised,” Launiere said. “It was an unbelievable play by Macey Gardener.”
Utah managed to win the next point before losing the point after, and the match, at 15-13.
This was the Utes’ third 15-13 loss in a fifth set in Pac-12 play.
Utah didn’t have much time to ponder its loss as they had to get ready for the next night in Tucson.
Arizona led most of the first set, but Utah would not go away. The score was at 16-15 when the Wildcats finally pulled away and made the set look worse for the Utes than it really was with a score of 25-19.
In the second set, Utah had the biggest lead at 13-9. Slowly but surely, though, Arizona caught up and tied the match at 16. The next 10 points were split between the two teams evenly as the match was tied at 21 apiece. The Utes took the next two points before the Wildcats took back-to-back ones for a 23-22 lead. Arizona’s star player Madi Kingdon had a hitting error that tied the match up at 23, but consecutive kills by Rachel Rhoades gave the Wildcats the set.
“I think it was tough to lose the second set because we knew it would’ve been tough to go down 0-2 again and try and come up with a win,” Launiere said.
The third set against Arizona was the worst set the Utes played all weekend. It started with a 6-1 lead for the Wildcats and didn’t get much better from there. The Utes did cut the lead down to three at 7-4, but another 5-1 run by Arizona made it 12-5. The Wildcats went on to finish off Utah 25-14, making this the second time the Utes have been swept in three sets this season.
“We got down early and couldn’t recover,” Launiere said.
The Utes’ losing streak is now at five as they head home for four straight matches at the Huntsman Center over the next two weekends.
[email protected]