The first set was there to be won for the Utah volleyball team. Unfortunately for the Utes, a couple of unforced errors proved to be their undoing.
The second set was similarly competitive against USC, ranked No. 4 in the country. But the ending was the same as the Trojans made all of the plays needed in the last five points. The third set? That's when the Trojans truly took over.
Losing three consecutive games 25-22, 25-21, 25-13 to a powerhouse USC team at the Huntsman Center on Sunday was disappointing in itself for a Utah squad looking to make its mark in the Pac-12 Conference. But the third set was a breaking point of sorts for Utes coach Beth Launiere, who had a long talk with her players following the defeat.
Consistency was the big issue. There were times when Utah looked very good. There were times when the Utes looked a bit lost. It's something Launiere wants to take care of right away, instead of letting it fester.
"I felt good about the first two sets," Launiere said. "I just thought they made a few more plays than us. I liked how we competed, and I liked how hard we played. Set three was disappointing. I wish we could've responded a little better. They did pressure us. But we didn't handle it well."
Instead, the Trojans dominated whenever it counted, displaying a level of athleticism Utah simply didn't have up front. Samantha Bricio had 16 kills to lead everyone. Ebony Nwanebu had nine. Together, they controlled the net, finishing chances offensively and making it difficult on the Utes whenever they had the ball in their possession.
As a result, the Trojans went through large stretches when their height at the net seemed impenetrable. Utah did play well at times. Shelby Dalton had a team-high 10 kills and Kendall Cygan was masterful, setting up her teammates to the tune of 14 assists.
When it counted, however, USC simply had too many options and too much depth for Utah.
"We made progress but we have to be more consistent," Dalton said. "That consistency has been an issue of late. We have to keep finding ways to improve."
The loss drops Utah to 11-2 on the season. The Utes did beat Colorado earlier in the week, so the defeat on Sunday doesn't constitute a losing streak.
USC 3, Utah 0
R The Trojans beat the Utes 25-22, 25-21, 25-13 in the Pac-12 match.
• USC's Samantha Bricio has 16 kills.
• Utah's Shelby Dalton has 10 kills.