Potential rivalry between Utah and Colorado could start with volleyball


— The Daily Utah Chronicle File Photo (Brent Uberty-dont print this part.)

Some rivalries are geographical while others are created by years of battle between the same two teams in crucial games.
Utah-BYU has been and will always be the number one rivalry in the state, even if the football teams decide not to play each other for a few years. The Utes and Cougars rivalry is always a battle for state bragging rights, even if both teams have losing records and no conference prize to fight for.
Since 2011, when Utah went into the Pac-12 and BYU jumped into football independence with every other sport going to the West Coast Conference, fans have been looking for an in-conference rival for the Utes. The obvious choice was Colorado, as it was the other school chosen to make the former Pac-10 into the Pac-12 alongside Utah.
Most fans argued that Colorado had the easier transition of the two schools, as the Buffaloes were moving from one Power Five conference to another, while Utah had to make the jump from the Mountain West Conference.
When the two teams play in football, the Utes are seen as the favorites, despite Colorado ending Utah’s chances at a Pac-12 championship berth the first year the teams joined the new conference. But in smaller sports, the two schools are much more competitive and similar.
Both volleyball programs struggled with the jump to arguably the toughest volleyball conference in the nation, and they had minimal history against each other.
“When we first started in the conference, we had hardly played Colorado,” said head coach Beth Launiere. “But when you start competing against each other, you start forming that. In volleyball we happen to have a lot of five-set matches, so I think the players are well into a rivalry with each other.”
In the beginning, Utah volleyball under Launiere made a smoother transition, but their transition was by no means easy.
“I think it’s a rivalry in the fact that we joined the Pac-12 at the same time,” said senior Lea Adolph. “It’s like the rivalry of the newbies.”
The Utes went 6-16 in the Pac-12 in 2011, with two of those wins coming against last-place Colorado. The Buffaloes went 1-21 in conference play that same season, as they finished in the basement of the conference. Both wins against the Buffaloes were sweeps in favor of the Utes.
Colorado was on the up in the second year in the Pac-12, winning three more conference matches than in its inaugural season with one of those coming at home versus Utah. The two teams were almost equal in 2012, as the Utes only registered one more win than the Buffaloes.
“It seems like we are pretty even with them and very similar,” said redshirt freshman Carly Trueman.
Coming off nearly identical seasons in 2012, the two teams had the exact same Pac-12 record in the fall of 2013 — both programs finished 9-11, which was good for a tie for seventh place in the conference.
“We both have been very similar in where we finish in the conference,” Launiere said. “We are keeping our eye on each other.”
The mountain schools split the two season meetings last year. In Salt Lake, Utah won in five sets, but the roles reversed at the end of the season as Colorado won in Boulder in five sets also.
Last season was also the first time the two teams qualified for the NCAA tournament since joining their new conference.
“I’m actually kind of proud how the mountain schools are doing,” Launiere said. “I’m glad we’re representing ourselves well.”
In their first match of the Pac-12 season this season, Utah and Colorado squared off in Boulder, going five sets for the third straight meeting with the Buffaloes coming out on top 15-12 in the critical fifth set.
“We are playing for something more than just pride now,” said senior Kalee Kirby. “That kind of fired us up — losing five set matches isn’t the way we want to go down.”
With the two schools ranked in the AVCA Top 25 for the first time since joining the conference, next weekend’s season finale in Salt Lake City can take this rivalry to the next level.
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