Utah splits its matches over the weekend, gets first Pac-12 road win

The U's volleyball team celebrates after defeating Oregon State.  Ñ Chris Ayres

Utah volleyball played two very different matches against two very different teams over the weekend in northern California. The No. 23 Utes were first swept by No.1 Stanford on Friday night, but then rebounded at Berkley, getting past last-place Cal in four sets.

Coming into the weekend, the Utes had won four straight matches, but were still looking to capture their first Pac-12 road win. Utah fought hard in the first set against the number one team in the nation, but in the second and third sets, the Utes were outplayed and outmatched.

“We came up against a really good team,” head coach Beth Launiere said. “We battled but they force you to push a little harder than you should, then the errors come.”

The score was tied at 18 in the first set without either team leading by more than two points throughout the set. From that exact point, the Cardinal managed a 4-0 run to pull away, but Utah didn’t lie down as they fought back to get within one at 24-23 before Stanford closed it out.

“It was our best offensive set of the night,” Launiere said. “It’s tough to get kills on them, as good as they are offensively they’re even better defensively.”

The second set was on its way to play out like the first with the two teams tied at 7 apiece, but the Cardinal then went on a 4-0 run and forced Launiere to call a timeout. Stanford didn’t slow down after that break as they powered their way to a 25-15 set win.

The least competitive set was the third. Stanford came out of intermission and was having their way with Utah. One positive was that the Utes looked good at the end of the set, fighting off four match points before losing the set 25-18.

Launiere was confident that her team would be able to carry the strong finish from the end of the Stanford match into the Cal match on Sunday and she was right.

Utah routed the Golden Bears in the first set 25-8. Thanks to a 10-0 run, the Utes lead grew from 6-5 to 16-5. Utah hit .333 hitting percentage in the first set and held Cal to negative .188.

A much more realistic second set compared to the out-of-this-world defensive numbers in the first. The Golden Bears led steadily throughout the early part of the set and opened up their biggest lead at 16-12, but Utah went on a 12-4 run from that point and gave themselves match point at 24-20. Cal fought off a few match points before Utah won the set 25-22.

A close set out of intermission had the two teams tied at 18 with the Utes looking to sweep the Golden Bears. A 7-3 Cal run to end the set. The third set was the Golden Bears’ Lillian Schonewise’s, who had five kills on five attempts for a perfect hitting percentage.

“She’s really good,” Launiere said about Schonewise. “We block her angle and she’d hit line, we’d block line and she’d hit angle – she just has that ability.”

The Utes had their best offensive set of the season in set number four, hitting 18-of-28 without any errors for an incredible .648 hitting percentage. To no one’s surprise, Utah won the set 26-16.

Utah had four different hitters in double digit kills and Carly Trueman led the way with nine.

“We played a very complete match from start to finish,” Launiere said.

In their final chance for a road win in the Pac-12, the Utes were able to get it. Now, Utah returns home for two matches against top 20 teams to try and bolster its tournament chances.

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@BenJasarevic