As a full schedule of women’s volleyball matches around the Pac-12 took shape Sunday, No. 18 Utah potentially could have joined in a six-way tie for first place in the conference.
That possibility crumbled later in the afternoon, partly because of the Utes' failure to finish their own match against No. 24 Washington State at the Huntsman Center. Utah missed a good close-out opportunity in the fourth set and absorbed a 3-2 defeat.
The Cougars won 23-25, 25-15, 24-26, 28-26, 16-14.
So ended Utah's late-October run of facing four Top 25 teams in conference play. The Utes lost to No. 15 California, No. 2 Stanford and WSU in five sets each, while beating No. 9 Washington in four sets Friday.
The Utes (14-7, 6-4 Pac-12) were riding the momentum of freshman Zoe Weatherington's winning kill that ended a long rally in the third set. They led 13-9 in the fourth set, only to have WSU (18-4, 7-3) recover.
“It kind of just slipped away from us,” said Ute junior Dani Drews, whose 31 kills tied a school record in the rally-scoring era. “That's something that we've talked about as a team; when we do get ahead, to not get comfortable, and stay confident and stay hungry to keep pushing ahead.”
Kenzie Koerber added 18 kills and Weatherington had 14 for Utah, while setter Saige Ka'aha'aina-Torres' 67 assists ranked second in program history.
Stanford came back from 2-0 down to beat USC, so the Cardinal (8-2) are alone in the first place in the Pac-12, rising above the possible six-way tie that was developing Sunday. Washington State is in a four-way tie for second, then Utah and USC are tied for sixth.
The Utes shudder when they think about where they would be if they had won another match or two the past two weekends. That's life in the Pac-12. Drews labeled the five-set losses “heartbreaking;” 30th-year coach Beth Launiere settled for “a little frustrating,” but she knows a missed opportunity when it comes and goes.
“Stanford was probably the toughest” of the recent losses, Launiere said, “because we were playing great volleyball and came the closest.”
Sunday's 16-14 loss in the fifth set was equally disappointing, even if WSU outplayed the Utes statistically all afternoon. European freshmen Magda Jehlarova and Pia Timmer led the Cougars with 18 and 17 kills.
“They're a good blocking team; they're big,” Launiere said. “We actually responded quite well and found some things offensively that worked, and then started causing them some problems.”
But the Utes couldn’t maintain their groove after the middle of the fourth set, and ended up taking another tough loss. Their schedule will lighten up to some degree Friday and Sunday when Arizona State and Arizona visit, but that’s not to say anything comes easily in the Pac-12.
• No. 18 Utah loses a four-point lead in the fourth set and ends up falling to No. 24 Washington in five sets in women’s volleyball Sunday at the Huntsman Center.
• The Utes lose for the third time in four consecutive matches vs. Top 25 teams in the Pac-12, with each defeat lasting five sets.
• Utah’s four-match homestand continues Friday vs. Arizona State and Sunday vs. Arizona.