One of the Utah women’s volleyball team’s major goals this season was earning a top-16 seed and a host’s role in the NCAA Tournament. The Utes barely missed that opportunity, but that just made reaching the Sweet 16 more rewarding to them.
Utah got there by sweeping No. 14 seed BYU on the Cougars’ home court last weekend, preparing them to challenge No. 3 Stanford on Friday night in the Cardinal’s gym, Maples Pavilion.
“All year, people have been shocked by the way we showed up,” said Utah junior Kenzie Koerber, an All-Pac-12 player.
Koerber liked how volleyball fans were complaining that the Utes spoiled their brackets. So the Utes’ attitude, Koerber said, is “Why stop now?”
The Utes nearly knocked off Stanford on the road in October, leading 2-1 in the match and extending the Cardinal in the fifth set before losing 17-15. Stanford then beat the Utes in four sets at the Huntsman Center three weeks after losing the first set.
The difference in those matches? Kathryn Plummer. The two-time national Player of the Year missed 10 matches in the middle of the season, but she’s healthy now. Plummer posted 24 kills against Utah in November, almost matching the 26 kills of Ute junior Dani Drews. The Cardinal also have Audriana Fitzmorris, who led the team with 18 kills in the home-court win over Utah.
UTAH AT STANFORD
When • Friday, 9 p.m. MST
TV • ESPNU
Stanford’s approach, Ute coach Beth Launiere said, is “ ‘Hey, this is is who we are; and stop us.’ So from a preparation standpoint, we know what’s coming.”
Utah’s results in Provo last weekend were both illustrative of the team’s season and stunning, considering how the Utes dominated BYU (25-15, 25-15, 25-15). Utah had to work hard to overcome Illinois in five sets in the first round, trailing 2-1 after three sets and being down 17-14 in the fourth set.
“One thing about this team: They're not afraid to fight. They've obviously responded all season long,” Launiere said.
Only afterward did it hit Launiere that her team beat two Final Four teams from last December. And now the Utes will face the defending champion.
Utah is in the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in Launiere’s 30 seasons on the job. The Utes never have advance beyond this stage. Penn State meets Cincinnati in the other bracket of the Stanford regional. The Final Four is next week in Pittsburgh.