Utah reserve Kinga Windisch’s serve hit the court and the Utes celebrated a second-set win over No. 2 Stanford.
The No. 24 Utes had momentum and the knowledge that they also could have won the first set Friday night at the Huntsman Center. That’s as good as it would get for Utah, even though coach Beth Launiere believed her team improved as the match went along. Stanford just asserted itself, winning in four sets: 28-26, 23-25, 25-19, 25-17.
“That’s the No. 2 team in the nation, and we were right there with them,” said Dani Drews, who led Utah with 13 kills.
That’s life in this league. The Utes (9-7, 1-4 Pac-12) have played four Top 25 teams in a row, while winning last Sunday at Washington.
The level of competition has reached a point where longtime coach Beth Launiere stopped keeping track of who’s ranked and who’s not. She did make an exception about Sunday’s home match vs. California, telling her players they can’t overlook a rare unranked opponent in the Pac-12.
Launiere also wouldn’t let the Utes find too much satisfaction from merely taking a set from the Cardinal, even if that was an achievement she could point to “a lot of positive takeaways.” That’s the only the second set Stanford (13-1) has dropped in five conference matches.
The thing is, Utah could or should have won the first set. The Utes trailed 18-12, but gave themselves two set-point opportunities before the Cardinal scored the last three points. Kate Formico’s serve hit the net, tricked over and hit the floor to conclude the set.
The Utes responded by winning the last four points of the second set. At that stage, Stanford stopped making mistakes and the Utes “lost a little bit of that aggressive edge,” Drews said.
That’s mostly a credit to the Cardinal, with a balanced attack. Kathryn Plummer, the reigning national player of the year, posted 18 kills. Audriana Fitzsimmons matched that total with far more efficiency, and Meghan McClure added 17 kills.
Utah’s Kenzie Koerber (11) and Lauga Gauta (10) supported Drews offensively, and Launiere liked how Drews answered Stanford’s defensive adjustments. “She had to find new shots,” Launiere said, “and she did.”