SALT LAKE CITY — All season, Utah's volleyball players have discussed how to develop and maintain a championship mentality.
In some ways, that’s been easy to define — work hard, have faith and support each other.
In other ways, it’s more a feeling than something you can check off a to-do list.
And when the Utes' were at their lowest point, having lost four of five matches, they got their season back on track by doing what they always do — working hard.
“At the end of the day, the team kept working,” said Utah coach Beth Launiere. “I come from the Midwest, it’s kind of a blue-collar mentality that, if you just do the work, something good is going to happen. And that was our mentality all along. Just keep doing the work, and we’re going to find some wins. I think everyone believed that.”
The Utes head to Stanford’s Maples Pavilion Friday to take on No. 2 Texas in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 (7 p.m. MT, ESPN3). The Utes are playing in the third round of the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2008 and the first since joining the Pac-12.
Several Utah players earned conference honors, led by outside hitter Adora Anae and middle hitter Tawnee Luafalemana and middle hitter Berkeley Oblad. Each were named to the AVCA Pacific South All-Region team this week. Anae and Luafalemana were first-team selections, meaning they will be added to the All-American ballot.
Texas (26-2) will be a challenge for the Utes (24-9), and are riding a 20-match win streak heading into the Sweet 16. The Longhorns have a prolific, dynamic offense and a formidable blocking defense.
Texas is led by Chiaka Ogbogu, who led the Big 12 in blocks with a 1.7 per set average. She totaled 167 blocks in the regular season, 12th best in the country. Micaya White, who earned 321 kills, and Lexi Sun, who posted 328 kills, joined Ogbogu and teammate Ebony Nwanebu as All-Big 12 first-team honorees.
The Utes are doing their best to prepare for this weekend’s matches, but they will also focus on the championship mentality that they worked to produce, in every practice, set and match all season long.