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U. women tip off MWC year

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Midway through the Utah women's volleyball season — perhaps the best in school history — Katrena Ellett was called aside after practice one day by coach Beth Launiere.

"I thought, 'Oh no, what did I do?' " recalls Ellett, one of the key performers for the 25-7 Ute team.

It wasn't a matter of what she did, rather what she could do, for another Ute athletic team.

"There's a coach on campus that needs your services," Launiere informed Ellett.

That coach was basketball coach Elaine Elliott, who found her team's inside game a little thin this year with the graduation of several key players and another who left after getting married.

So after taking a month off following the Utes' NCAA Sweet Sixteen loss to eventual champion Stanford, Ellett joined the Ute basketball team last week. The Cyprus High grad may make her debut Thursday night when the Utes take on Wyoming in the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams.

"She was a good high school player and we did recruit her," said Elliott. "She's got good athleticism and a great attitude. She's aggressive and moves well."

At the same time, Elliott cautions not to expect too much from the 6-foot-1 former all-stater.

"The possible opportunity exists, but we'll just see what happens," said Elliott. "She's only practiced three days. We have no idea."

The Utes have just 11 players on the team and only four inside players, so at the very least Ellett gives the Utes another body for practices.

Starting center Lauren Beckman leads the Utes in rebounding with 8.3 boards per game and is second in scoring at 14.5 points per game. The other inside starter is Katherine McColl, who averages 5.0 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

Both players welcome the idea of Ellett joining the team.

"Our ultimate goal is to win, so whatever helps that happen is better for the team," said McColl.

"She competes and hustles and gives us another component that really helps us," said Beckman.

Senior guard Erin Gibbons leads the Utes in scoring at 15.2 points per game, while shooting 44.9 percent from 3-point range. Senior Lindsay Herbert is shooting even better from 3-point land (51.3 percent) and scoring 13.4 points per game. The fifth starter is sophomore point guard Kelsy Stireman, who is averaging 4.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game.

The Utes are happy to be home after playing five straight road games since Dec. 1. They lost three of those games and head into the Wyoming game 7-5 overall.

A key test comes Saturday afternoon when they meet league favorite Colorado State (11-3), which has been ranked in the Top 25 most of the season, at 3:30 p.m. at the Huntsman Center.

E-MAIL: sor@desnews.com