It was a festive Saturday afternoon at Crimson Court. Utah's volleyball team was going for a school-record 12th straight win, hosting the NCAA's 20th-ranked team, Colorado State, which had won nine of its last 10. For the first time, a Ute match was being televised live (KJZZ).
The band was there. So was Ron McBride and half a dozen football players, soccer coaches Jim and Amy Freeman Winslow and many of their players, basketball coach Elaine Elliott and many of her players, and Utah Starzz assistant Greg Williams.The Utes were doing all right, too, until a couple of transgressions in the third game raised their doubts and gave the experienced Rams a 2-1 lead and a chance to close it out in four.
Not that Utah gave in. It was down 11-2 in Game 4 after numerous service errors but survived to fight off match point five times while scoring three points to make it 11-14. Then a Sara Shakula hit went just outside the line for CSU's winner. It was 15-10, 9-15, 11-15, 11-15.
"There goes their record," said a Colorado State player to her teammates as they headed for the dressing room with their 13-3 mark, 3-1 and tied with 12-4, 3-1 Utah in WAC play.
Streaks come and go, but, "That was a big district matchup," said U. coach Beth Launiere. "They're sixth, we're seventh.That was a match to get us closer to the NCAAs," she said. "It would have been a significant win." Utah has won the matches it's supposed to but needs to attract attention by beating someone with a higher ranking, like a CSU.
Launiere was consoled by Utah's grit. "We did not give up. It was a nice little streak, and they weren't about to let it slip by. They fought for it," she said. "We didn't roll over."
Utah opened with a 9-2 lead in Game 1, then broke from a 9-9 tie with four service points from Shakula and an ace for the 15th point. CSU led 5-0 and 11-3 in Game 2. Down 0-8 in Game 3, the U. slowly rallied back to 8-9 and 9-10.
What could have been Utah's equalizer was instead a CSU sideout when a back-row Ute touched a ball that was headed out of bounds. Utah did get to 10-10 but lost the ball on a service error - one of its 16 in the match - and with the score 10-11, a CSU drop-serve landed amongst the Utes with no one making a move for it. Launiere remembered the ace as the day's key play.
Launiere said Utah did a reasonably against CSU's strong outside attack and won in the middle. Kalani Tonga had 20 kills (five errors) and 10 blocking assists to lead Utah. CSU's Rainie Rogers had 23 kills (eight errors). Ute senior Brenda Barton-Whicker led both teams in digs with 14 and had 13 kills (five errors) but made seven service errors. "We were trying to be aggressive with it, and when you get yourself in a hole, they all become so much more important," Launiere said. "We needed to serve tough because if they got in-system, we would be in trouble. We knew we would miss our fair share; we missed too many."
Utah travels to UNLV and Air Force next weekend.