It’s the daily grind, and it’s the nightly and daily to preparation to try to be good for two back-to-back matches on a weekend. – Beth Launiere

SALT LAKE CITY — Every year the Utah volleyball team has gotten better statistically.

The difference, however, between being a competitive program and a championship team may have more to do with unseen abilities than measurable skills. As the Utes prepare to host their first Pac-12 match Friday at the Huntsman Center against Colorado, coach Beth Launiere said the next step is consistency.

“You have to be good over time,” Launiere said of what it will take for Utah to move from the middle of the pack to being a top-tier team in the Pac-12. “We have to be consistent. It is not for the faint of heart. It’s not easy. I think this is the time it starts getting tough. We don’t make them run sprints until they puke or something. That’s what people think being tough is; it’s not. It’s the daily grind, and it’s the nightly and daily to preparation to try to be good for two back-to-back matches on a weekend.”

Senior middle blocker Tawnee Luafalemana said it’s playing to their potential — every point, every set, every match against any opponent.

“Championship mentality, mainly, is just going 100 percent for each other,” Laufalemana said. “This group is really energetic and positive, so everyone wants to win. We know we’re ranked for a reason so we’re wanting to push more and wanting to win more.”

She said the infusion of talent with this year’s freshman class gives them depth and confidence. She said this year’s team has the talent, size and smarts. The only thing they lack is that mental edge.

“It’s wanting the ball on game point, wanting to be in those pressure situations,” Laufalemana said. “We’re not there yet, honestly, but we’re working toward it.” She pointed out aspects of practice meant to push and pressure the players so that nothing they face in a game is foreign or intimidating. “We work

She pointed out aspects of practice meant to push and pressure the players so that nothing they face in a game is foreign or intimidating. “We work through a lot of pressure situations that are preparing us,” Luafalemana said. “That’s what I do. I love pressure games. I want the ball on game point.”

She said struggling as a softball pitcher when she was younger, and spending two years at the junior college level have given her mental toughness that she tries to use to help her younger teammates.

“It really made me stronger,” she said of the frustration of learning to pitch. “Junior college, they developed my mental process. They made me the player I am today.”

Utah enters Pac-12 play with a 9-2 record. Leading outside hitter Adora Anae is questionable for Friday’s game, but the Utes still have plenty of firepower.

Luafalemana is averaging two kills per set, as well as six solo blocks and 37 block assists. Berkeley Oblad is averaging just over two kills and has four solo blocks and 40 assists. Freshman Dani Barton is averaging 2.23 kills per set, while Carly Trueman adds 2.5 kills per set.

Both players and coaches are thrilled to get conference play underway.

“You don’t know how to explain it,” Launiere said of the intensity shift as conference play approaches. “Except the players know it’s Pac-12 time. It’s time to go. …The energy in the gym on Monday was very good, and it got better on Tuesday.”

She said the Utes are distributing the ball well, which they need to continue doing to be successful.

“There is just not one bad team in this conference,” she said. “We have a lot of people getting kills for us. If we can keep that going, that will be good.”

The team’s blocking has been inconsistent, as has its defense.

“I think we have all the pieces,” she said. “But it’s continuing to put it all together and get better.”

Adds Luafalemana, “To get to that top tier in the conference, we need the whole team being involved.”

The Utes host Colorado Friday at 7 p.m. and then host Cal Sunday at 2 p.m.