Utes hope to overcome road woes in matchup with No. 1 Stanford


— Jameson Clifton

Utah heads to No. 1 Stanford still looking for its first road win in Pac-12 play. The Utes are 0-8 on the road in conference play with only two away games remaining.
At home, though, Utah has been doing some damage.
In the last two weeks the Utes have turned their season around, going a perfect 4-0 with three upsets over Top-20 schools, including a huge five set win over No. 2 Washington.
“I think we bonded well in the last two weeks in terms of everybody in it together, and so we just have to take that same feeling and mentality on the road,” said head coach Beth Launiere.
Even with her team’s poor record on the road, Launiere said there are positives to playing away from home.
“Sometimes it’s nice to play on the road and just be you against everybody, and hopefully we can carry that mentality,” Launiere said. “You just get on the road, you’re there for one thing, and it’s easier to focus.”
Players are aware of the team’s road woes but are hoping recent home success can follow them on the road.
“We have to focus on us and making their gym our gym with how we play,” said senior Chelsey Schofield-Olsen.
The recent success has seen the Utes go from unranked to No. 23 in the country — its first ranking since August 2009.
“It’s awesome, but we were doing well, and we weren’t ranked, so we know that the rankings really don’t mean anything,” Schofield-Olsen said.
Despite the four-match winning streak, the Utes have no room for complacency.
“They know we have to still do some things, and I know they really want to make the tournament,” Launiere said. “I think if anything, it re-motivated us. It put us back in position to have these matches matter.”
Senior Shelby Dalton said the team can’t get caught up in recent success because there is still work to be done.
“We’ve been playing really well, but we can’t let that get to our heads,” Dalton said. “We have to play really good against these teams, especially on their courts.”
Many times this year Launiere has told her team that there are no easy matches in the Pac-12. There is no better proof of this than playing No. 2 Washington followed by No. 1 Stanford.
“I know my team, and they love this stuff — they would love to go in there and knock Stanford off,” Launiere said. “We’re not talking about it, we are just going in and playing volleyball against a good team — we better play well, ‘cause we are gonna have to.”
Stanford is undefeated. The Cardinal gets most of their success through their middles.
Inky Ajanaku and Merete Lutz are the two middle blockers for Stanford and both rank in the top five in the NCAA in hitting percentages. The two blockers are hitting .447 and .454, respectively. Launiere has a different game plan for each and hopes it can slow down the duo.
“You definitely don’t want to go right at Lutz — she’s big, and so is [Ajanaku],” Launiere said. “So you want to try and make them move a little bit. We want to try to use our quickness by moving our middles around.”
The last time the teams played, Utah was able to go four sets with the Cardinal at the Huntsman Center.
After facing Stanford, the Utes will head to Berkeley to take on Cal. The Golden Bears picked up their first conference win last weekend by upsetting No. 25 USC.
Utah is aware they can’t sleep on California. Earlier this season, the Bears jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the Utes mounted a comeback and won the match in five sets.
“We’ve got to be ready for that match — they’re playing for pride. It’s a program with a lot of history and tradition,” Launiere said. “We’ve gotta go in there and win a big match. It’s not gonna be easy.”
First serve from Stanford is set for 9 p.m. MT.
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