Utah’s fledgling beach volleyball team finally plays at home, splits with Colorado Mesa and Boise State

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kinga Windish hits the ball for Utah, in beach volleyball action between Utah and Colorado Mesa, in the first home tournament in history for the University of Utah, Saturday, April 13, 2019.

Once the snow melted into the sand, Utah successfully staged the first home tournament in the school’s three-year history of beach volleyball.

The results were as mixed as Saturday's weather: The Utes took a 3-2 win over Colorado Mesa and dropped a 4-1 match to Boise State.

Merely being able to play seemed like a victory, after snow covered the Lassonde Courts – nicknamed “Ute Beach” – in the middle of the campus in the morning. “Oh, my gosh. I was like, ‘Are you serious?' When we were warming up, my feet were numb. I’m glad it definitely thawed by the end,” said Ute star Dani Drews.

Coaches and players raked the snow into the sand and competed as scheduled. The conditions were ideal in the evening, when Drews and partner Tawnee Luafalemana outlasted their Boise State opponents 26-24 in the second set to close out Utah's only win over the Broncos.

“We're getting a little bit more consistent each time we play, which is nice,” Utah coach Brenda Whicker said. “We're getting closer to beating people. … We do some good things. Can we cut back on errors? Yes, but we're making progress. The sad part is our season's not very long.”

The Utes (5-7) will join eight other schools in the Pac-12 tournament, April 25-27 in Los Angeles to end the season.

Drews/Luafalemana also beat their Colorado Mesa opponents in two sets. Utah’s other wins came from Lauren Sproule/Jessica Villela and Kenize Koerber/Megan Yett.

Four of Utah's athletes are beach-only players. Drews was a second-team All-America indoor player as a sophomore in 2018. She likes the variety of beach competition and believes it helps develop her all-around game. In a two-woman event, Drews said, “Everyone has to be able to do everything.”

Beth Launiere, who oversees the program as Utah’s longtime indoor coach, keeps analyzing how to mix offseason practice with beach competition. The Utes are likely to have more beach specialists in the future, she said. Club programs are emphasizing the sport, now that the NCAA’s sanctioning of beach volleyball has created more opportunities for players.