Utah Volleyball Advances, Downs Utah Valley In NCAA Tournament Opener
PROVO, Utah – The Utah volleyball team began its NCAA Tournament run Friday night with a first-round victory over Utah Valley in four sets (25-16, 22-25, 25-19, 25-11). Led by double-digit kill efforts from three Utes and tough serving, the Utes downed the Wolverines for a third time this season to earn a spot in the second round of tournament play tomorrow night.
"Utah Valley is a really good team and is very well coached," said Utah head coach Beth Launiere. "They have a lot of really great hitters and they were aggressive. It came down to serving and passing - surprise, surprise. The first set we were winning the serve and pass battle, and the second set we weren't. We started serving a bit tougher and our passers started getting up, putting us in-system and getting our offense going. It was a pretty typical match for us and we are very happy to get the win."
"Everyone on the team has come in with a good mindset and we are all just locked in," said senior outside hitter Dani Drews on advancing. "We are all very present and we knew coming into the tournament it could be back-to-back games, so we are staying locked in while we scout and tomorrow we will come in and work on some things that we see tonight and on film. We are all really bought in and want to win."
It was all about momentum for the Utes to open the match as the first set saw large spurts of points between the Utes and Wolverines. Utah recorded the first big run of the match after going on a 8-1 run, which forced Utah Valley to call timeout after falling behind 11-6. The Wolverines responded with five unanswered points and tied the set 11-11.
The Wolverines had to burn their final timeout of the set after Utah scored four straight later on to lead 17-13, but the damage was done when Utah finished the set on a 7-0 run to pick up the set 25-16. Utah wrapped up the set hitting .344 as a group and were led by Madelyn Robinson's six kills, while Dani Drews added four kills, three digs and two aces.
Both teams held each other in check the second set as neither team managed to put together more than three consecutive points at a time. Utah Valley took an early lead and held onto it until a kill from Drews followed by a block from Drews and Van Der Werff tied the set 14-14. Utah Valley took the lead once again at 19-16, but Utah came storming back and tied it following a 3-0 run. Utah Valley scored three consecutive points to take a 22-19 lead, and despite a Utah timeout, the Wolverines managed to close out the set 25-22 and tie the match.
Utah pulled ahead in the third set after a 6-1 run early on, which led to an 11-7 lead and Utah Valley timeout. The Wolverines chipped away and cut the lead to just one point, but Utah managed to push the lead back out to 14-10 after three points in a row. After a kill from Drews and a pair of kills from Robinson, Utah was able to push its lead out to the largest of the set at 20-14 and would carry the momentum until eventually taking the set 25-19.
The fourth set was controlled by the Utes from start to finish as the offense could not be stopped and saw a .450 hitting clip in the set. Utah built an early 9-2 lead after scoring seven consecutive points, which included three service aces from Vanessa Ramirez, and later scored the next five of six points to lead 14-4. Another large sequence of points were strung together once again while Ramirez was serving – this time being a 5-0 run for the Utes. With the lead 24-11, Utah would earn its final point of the match from Amelia Van Der Werff, who collected her 10th kill of the match.
Joining Van Der Werff in double-digit kills were Drews, who posted a match-high 18 kills (.317), and Robinson, who totaled 13 kills. Drews posted her 12th double-double of the season with 12 digs and added three aces and three blocks. Van Der Werff led the Utes with seven blocks and hit .692 tonight, while Robinson collected seven digs.
Stef Jankiewicz once again led the steaming offense with 46 assists, guiding the team to a .302 hitting percentage. Ramirez posted a career-high four aces - all of which came in the fourth set - and totaled 10 digs, which marked the 23rd match of 10 or more digs this season. Zoe Weatherington added eight kills (.333) and five blocks for Utah.
Utah will face No. 11-seed BYU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament tomorrow night at 7 p.m. MT at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo. The match between the Utes and Cougars will be broadcast on ESPN+.