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Utah sweeps past Cougars

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Utah's Shelly Sommerfeldt (4) spikes the ball against BYU defender Jenna Judkins during the Utes' three-game sweep of the Cougars on Saturday.

Utah’s Shelly Sommerfeldt (4) spikes the ball against BYU defender Jenna Judkins during the Utes’ three-game sweep of the Cougars on Saturday.

Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News

The University of Utah women's volleyball team put a nine-match winning streak against its top rival on the line when they took on BYU at Crimson Court on Saturday afternoon.

A three-game sweep 30-24, 30-20, 31-29 kept their domination of the past three years intact. The Cougars haven't beaten their instate rivals from the north since their own sweep Sept. 20, 2001.

Both teams came off emotional matches this week against Notre Dame. BYU was hoping a five-game victory against the Fighting Irish would provide momentum for the rest of the Mountain West Conference season, and the Utes were looking to make up for a three-game disappointment after losing their first homecourt match of the season to the team from South Bend, Ind.

In the end, the Utes got what they were looking for.

"BYU is always a big game," said Utah senior outside hitter Liana Bortoto, who recorded a career-high 19 kills to go along with her 11 digs. "They came out really strong against us, but we were really well-prepared."

The Utes, now 16-3 overall and 8-0 in the MWC, came out with plenty of fire after their lackluster performance against Notre Dame. "We were really focused," said Kelsie Kartchner, the Utes' senior setter out of Pleasant Grove. "Their outsides are really good. Our game plan was to shut them down."

Everything the Utes planned seemed to work well after the 14th tie at 23-all in the first game. Utah went on a 9-0 run to finish off the game and head into the second with plenty of confidence. Game 2 wasn't nearly as competitive as the Utes more than doubled the Cougars' dig efforts and finished them off quickly.

"We need to dig more balls," said BYU coach Karen Lamb. "They out-dug us tonight, so they just had more opportunities to turn balls."

And they took advantage of them as Lyndsey Henderson finished with 15 kills, Shelly Sommerfeldt pounded down 13 with a .476 hitting percentage, and Kartchner and Tracy Neumeier combined for 50 assists.

"I think we had a good game plan, and we just need to execute that game plan," said Lamb. "We need to start putting pressure on (the other team) consistently."

Game 3 showcased the lack of consistency as every time the Cougars would get on a roll, they'd make a mistake and lose all the momentum they'd built.

"The last game was good, but we made errors at unfortunate times and suffered the consequences," said Lexi Brown, BYU's leader with 10 kills.

"I felt really good today, connecting to setters really well and finding open spots," added Brown. Lauren Richards finished with 32 assists for the Cougars in the losing effort.

But coach Lamb maintains the Cougars need to cut down on the errors if they want to improve their 4-4 conference record. "We've been working on it, but we just absolutely have to change that part of our game."