Last weekend more than 120 college teams from all over the country descended on the Salt Lake Valley as the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association held its annual volleyball tournament from Thursday to Saturday at the Salt Palace.

The University of Utah, as well as a handful of other local teams, managed to stand out in the midst of thousands of weekend warriors that were playing for nothing but pride.

The Utes, led by the dependable Mike Nelson, made a run that included surprising upsets, miraculous finishes and everything in between. Nelson and company fared well the first two days, knocking off No. 3 seed Michigan State while losing only one game to Virginia Tech.

A perfect example of the Utes' serendipitous play came in their match against West Coast power UC Davis. With his team trailing 24-17 and the Aggies a mere one point away from victory, Kyle Greenburg served eight straight points, putting his team back in control of a game they would win 29-27.

"That was our own little 'Miracle on Ice,'" said team captain Bryan Allred.

The good fortune that helped keep Utah alive during the first two days of the tournament was nowhere to be found once single-elimination play started on Saturday, as the upstart Utes drew No. 1-ranked University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh as their first opponent.

Everyone from Air Force to Yale turned out to see the Utes take on Oshkosh, who turned out to be significantly more menacing than the children's clothing line of the same name. The hometown heroes played well and even led early but came up one miracle short, losing in two games.

"They're a good team, and they deserve to be No. 1," said Utah head coach Makay Wilson. "I'm just so proud of my guys and they way they competed. We got great contributions from every single position."

The entire state was well-represented in the tournament, as UVSC, Utah State and Salt Lake Community College all fielded teams of their own. Utah Valley's boys, the only local team to join the Utes in Division I, made it through the first day unscathed but were eliminated from the top bracket after going 0-2 on Friday. A heartbreaking loss to Boston University on Saturday afternoon sent the Wolverines packing for good.

USU did not fare so well, as its hopes for the I-AA title took a hit with a loss on Thursday, and were snuffed out completely when the Aggies dropped their match on Friday against Northeastern University. One final loss to UC Irvine put USU on the sidelines for the remainder of the day. The final local school suffered a similar fate, as a first-day loss knocked the team from Salt Lake Community College out of the winner's bracket early, but the Bruins made the best of the situation, walking all over Michigan State's JV en route to a fifth place finish in Division III.

"I think this is probably the best our local teams have done in quite some time," said Utah's Wilson.


E-mail: tquinn@desnews.com