Utes crack Top 25, handle changes in the lineup due to injury


Through its first 12 conference games, Utah was a lowly 2-10 — not exactly where the Utes expected to be before the season started.
Utah’s NCAA Tournament hopes looked to be over with the final nail in the coffin coming after a weekend in Arizona where the Utes lost to both the Sun Devils and the Wildcats.
The tides have quickly changed.
After winning four straight matches, including an upset over No. 2 Washington on Saturday, the Utes have suddenly cracked the Top-25, and their tournament hopes are very much alive and well.
Head coach Beth Launiere credits the players’ effort and a meeting the team had after they came back from Tucson.
“I talked to them about, ‘We have a short amount of time left, and no matter what’s happened, we just need to get down to business and give it all we have,’ ” Launiere said. “I didn’t want to have any regrets; I didn’t want the players to have any regrets.”
Launiere used a story in the book Good to Great about a hedgehog and a fox as an example. In the story the hedgehog would come out of its hole, and when the fox would try to get it, the hedgehog would put up its spikes. Each day was the same for the hedgehog and, by using a simple maneuver and sticking to its plan, it was consistently able to get food without becoming the fox’s dinner.
“The point of the hedgehog story was don’t let distractions get in your way, don’t complicate things and keep it simple,” Launiere said.
The Utes have kept it simple, and the wins have started to roll in.
Katoa injured
Eliza Katoa came into the program this season as one of the Utes’ top recruits. The young freshman had been playing all year, but had run into some bumps in the road. Coming off of a Pac-12 Freshman of the Week performance, however, she looked comfortable at the right side hitter position, and it appeared she had secured a place in the lineup. That all changed against Washington State.
In the first set against the Cougars on Thursday night, Katoa went down with a knee injury.
Launiere confirmed the injury is a “serious left knee injury” but won’t know the extent until later this week when Katoa goes in for an MRI.
Katoa’s parents and teammates are confident she’ll bounce back, citing her “winning personality” and “positivity.”
Moea’i steps in and impresses
With each injury comes opportunity.
Makenzie Moea’i was put into the lineup in place of Katoa and had the best game of her season against No. 2 Washington on Saturday.
Launiere called Moea’i’s 11-kill performance with a .444 hitting percentage “big time.”
“She had a good week of practice without knowing if she was going to play or not,” Launiere said. “She was prepared, which is awesome.”
Moea’i had mostly played the outside hitter position this year, but with Katoa’s injury, Moea’i was put in as the right side hitter.
The senior didn’t care what position she played — she just wanted to be on the court to help her team.
“I like both positions. I don’t have a preference,” Moea’i said.
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