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Utes rally past Cowgirls

Utah's Emillie Toone (15) returns the ball Friday against Wyoming.
Utah's Emillie Toone (15) returns the ball Friday against Wyoming.
Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

The post-BYU victory lull that Utah volleyball coach Beth Launiere had feared for a week showed up in the Utes' first game, and the Wyoming Cowgirls, playing inspired ball, took full advantage Friday night at Crimson Court to win that initial game.

But Ute sophomore Whitney Webb came alive to inspire her teammates, and, "Slowly we started taking things away from them," said Launiere after her team had put together a victory in four games, 27-30, 30-26, 30-26, 30-17, against the fiercely competitive Cowgirls.

The Utes began serving better, taking Wyoming out of system more, and they improved their blocking, meaning Wyo had fewer easy hits.

Second-place Utah is now 18-6, 10-3 in the Mountain West Conference, and it has a seven-match winning streak as MWC power Colorado State visits tonight at 7 for the Utes' final home match of the season and Senior Night, when the Crimson Court faithful says goodbye to Shelly Sommerfeldt, Danielle Leichliter and Katie Theurer. The Rams were involved in a long match at BYU Friday.

Utah has won all 11 home matches this season and has a 12-match home-win streak going back to 2004. CSU was the last conference team to win on Crimson Court.

The Cowgirls had won four of their last five matches, despite what is now a 9-14, 4-8 record.

Wyoming finally started losing its grip when the Utes made a 5-1 run early in the fourth game, riding Webb's serving, including an ace, for four of the points.

Webb finished with her first career double-double with 13 kills and 11 digs, and she hit .357, best among Utah's frontline. Wyoming's Lauren Scott hit .375 for best among all hitters and had 10 kills, while Rachel Smith had 17 kills (out of 60 attacks). Ute freshman Airial Salvo had 15 kills and a .273 hitting percentage, while Sommerfeldt had 11 kills and hit .233.

Launiere had thought Webb was struggling in recent matches, so she designed one practice this week to force her to hit. "When we needed someone to pick it up, Whit did it," she said. "It was a big-time match by her. She had a great match. She touched a lot of balls."

"I owed them something," said Webb. "I had a rough week of practices, and I owed them a stellar performance."

The win streak has her stoked and "really excited to play these matches this weekend, and everything finally came together. We have to keep (the win streak) up."

Utah finishes its regular season with road matches at UNLV Nov. 18 and at San Diego State Nov. 19 before the MWC Tournament opens Nov. 24 in Las Vegas.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com