Utah takes down USC, UCLA in the Huntsman Center

Utah’s Chelsey Schofield goes for the block during the blackout match last season at the Huntsman Center.
Utah’s Chelsey Schofield-Olsen goes for the block during the blackout match last season at the Huntsman Center.

The Utes put on a show Friday evening for their blackout match against USC in front of 1,493 fans — the fourth largest crowd at a volleyball match at the Huntsman. Utah put together a complete performance to sweep the Trojans in straight sets 3-0.
Coming into the match, the Utes had lost five straight matches and were desperate for a win. Utah didn’t run away from the Trojans in any of the three sets, but the Utes were in control in the first two. In the third set, Utah hung around despite trailing most of the set, then won the set in extra points.
Back-to-back kills by seniors Chelsey Schofield-Olsen and Shelby Dalton got the Utes off to a 2-0 start and got the crowd going as well. Utah was up 9-6 early in the first set when USC made a 4-0 run behind three Samantha Bricio kills. The Utes bounced back quickly with an 11-3 run of their own to regain a 20-13 lead. Utah closed out the set shortly after, 25-17.
Behind two straight service aces by senior Kalee Kirby, the Utes led 2-0 to start the second set. From that point on, USC could not come back and tie the set at any point. Utah looked comfortable throughout the set.
“The sets were on point, the blocks were on point, making it easier to dig,” Schofield-Olsen said. “Everybody was doing their job, so it was a lot easier to do your own job.”
This was the first time this season that the Utes had a 2-0 lead heading into the intermission in Pac-12 play.
USC came out much livelier in the third set and got out to a 10-6 lead, forcing head coach Beth Launiere to call a timeout. Utah came back and tied the set at 13, forcing the Trojans into a timeout.
The set went back and forth until it was tied at 24, when Dalton got a big kill to set up a match point for the Utes. On the next point, Kirby called her own number and flipped the ball over the net instead of setting one of her hitters. The gutsy move caught USC off guard and got Utah the match-winning point.
“It was a complete performance. We had a good week of practice, we had a good scouting report,” Launiere said. “Credit the players for carrying the scouting report out.”
Utah had a balanced attack with six hitters with at least six kills, with Schofield-Olsen leading the way with 12.
This was only Utah’s second win against USC — the first one was in 1986.
One of the keys for the win was not letting Bricio’s serve take over the match like it did earlier this year when the Utes traveled to southern California. Bricio recorded just eight serves, with four of them being service errors.
“We did work on it this week a lot,” Launiere said. “Altitude definitely affects serves because the ball flies here, so she had to take a little bit off.
Utah continued the momentum it gained from Friday night’s victory by sweeping visiting UCLA in the Huntsman Center.
The Utes set the tempo early in the first set, getting the first point by blocking Player of the Year candidate, Karsta Lowe. Utah led most of the opening set, but never could build a substantial advantage. With the set tied at 18, the Utes blocked Lowe back-to-back to take a 20-18 lead.
“That was huge. Both of those blocks were by Chelsey [Schofield-Olsen],” Launiere said. “That’s a good example … Chelsey was struggling a little bit offensively, then she goes out and gets two big blocks.”
The teams went on to split the next 10 points, resulting in a 25-23 Utah win.
The Utes had five team blocks in the first set alone.
“We really worked on our blocking and defensive schemes this week and it really paid off,” Launiere said.
The Utes faced a couple of runs from UCLA in the second set but never allowed the Bruins to take control. Utah was out to 2-0 lead when the Bruins went on a 4-0 run. Utah bounced back to take a 13-11 lead later in the set, but the Bruins went on another 4-0 run. Near the end of the set the Utes faced a 21-19 deficit when they jumped out on a 5-0 run of their own to set up set point. Bruins took the next two points before Utah freshman Carly Trueman got a kill to give the Utes a 25-23 set win.
With the Utes up 15-13 in the third set, the ball was set to freshman Eliza Katoa, who got up and hit one of the hardest balls of the day, but UCLA managed to dig it. Once the ball was dug, the Bruins set for Lowe, who went to hammer the ball over Katoa, but Katoa — who’s six inches shorter than Lowe — got up and blocked the ball to give the Utes the point.
“I was really mad that they dug it, so I just went up and blocked it,” Katoa said. “It felt really good ‘cause [Lowe] is amazing.”
In the end, Utah won 25-22, and Katoa was the one to get the match-winning kill. She finished the day with a team-high 11 kills.
“Those blocks were huge, they were starting to set balls over her, they were going after her as blocking target,” Launiere said. “Once Eliza [Katoa] got those couple of blocks, they went away from her.”
The Utes will look to ride the hot streak into another weekend at the Huntsman against Washington State and Washington.
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