Danielle Leichliter is one of nine letterwinners returning from last season's conference championship squad.
Aug. 12, 2005
The University of Utah volleyball team sailed to the top of the Mountain West Conference last year.
Now the charge is to stay there!
However, it's going to be a heady task for the 2005 squad, a younger version of last year's conference championship team. This season, the roster boasts nine players that are either of sophomore or freshman standing. That number includes four newcomers who could figure into the mix immediately.
"The freshman class coming in is one of the strongest we have ever had," veteran head coach Beth Launiere said. "We're going to be young this year but I'm excited.
"There's definitely going to be a learning curve for the newcomers, though. They're experienced at the junior level, but their ability to step in and play right away will be key for us."
The Utes also bring back plenty of experience to balance out and guide the youth movement. There are nine letterwinners and four starters returning from last year's team. With them comes a solid foundation from the 2004 squad that went to the NCAA Tournament and set the school record for conference wins, going 13-1 (24-7 overall) in the Mountain West Conference.
"I'm excited about the leadership this team has," remarked Launiere. "Shelly Sommerfeldt established herself as a leader without hesitation last spring. She took responsibility for the team and understands the importance of her role. She is noticeably focused on her senior year.
"Connie Dangerfield is extremely confident and has stepped up as a leader too. To have leadership coming from an outside hitter and a libero bodes well for us. Those are two key positions on the floor."
The team may take the floor with a different dynamic in 2005 but that doesn't mean the goals have changed. Regardless of the team's youth or experience, the Utes are still aiming high and are out to show that they are not only one of the top programs in the conference, but among the tops in the country as well.
"It doesn't matter how old or young the team is," Launiere pointed out. "We have a mission statement and it never changes. This program always has high-quality players in it and our goal remains to win the Mountain West Conference and to go far in the NCAA Tournament."
One of the strongest and deepest components of the team, the outside hitters will bring a lot of experience to the court.
A senior co-captain and the top returning offensive threat, Shelly Sommerfeldt is a two-time all-conference honoree. She paces all returnees in tallying 3.04 kills per game. But, her numbers should improve as Lyndsey Henderson's departure will mean more opportunities for Sommerfeldt.
"Shelly is one of the top three outside hitters in the conference and is one of the premiere hitters in the country," remarked Launiere. "She is going to have a tremendous amount of offensive responsibility this year."
Senior Danielle Leichliter will be another key at outside hitter. Leichliter saw a lot of time in the back row in the 2004, finishing among the team leaders in digs. But, after a strong spring and improvement in her all-around game, she should figure in as an important part of the attack.
"Danielle is so consistent," said Launiere. "The tandem of Shelly and Danielle are an important part of our offense. They compliment each other very well."
At 6-7, Toone made an immediate impact. The returning starter averaged 1.15 kills and 0.96 blocks last year. But, while she excelled in blocking, the team will look for her offensive numbers to improve this year.
"Emillie is a key part of the puzzle and her block gives us a solid foundation defensively," commented Launiere. "But, we need her to start contributing more on offense too."
Robison saw key action in 24 matches and in 37 games, averaging 1.27 kills and 1.59 digs. A smart, strong and aggressive player, Robison should figure in heavily after showing all-around improvement in the offseason.
Natalie Miller is another option here. She continued to make great strides and enters the fall on the heels of a solid spring.
"Natalie is a junior that has worked hard and developed in the program for two years," said Launiere. "She had a solid spring and is ready to jump in when needed."
Salvo fits well into Utah's system and should flourish this season. She brings a wealth of high-level experience having played for the U.S. Junior Olympic Training squad last summer. Salvo has also played in numerous international and national tournaments and was the top high school player in the state of Utah last two years.
Lovell joins the Crimson and White having broken one the top records in the state. She had 1,504 career kills in high school. That is the top mark in the state of Utah and it passes the one set by U.S. National Team member Logan Tom. Lovell plays her game high above the net and generates a lot of power with a fast arm. She has a solid foundation and will start to leave her mark when she adapts to the college game.
With the graduation of honorable mention All-American Lyndsey Henderson, middle blocker will be the biggest question mark for Utah heading into 2005.
"We don't have a proven go-to middle yet," noted Launiere. "However, we have good middles. It's just that we don't know who's going to step up and take ownership of the position."
Tingey, who saw time as a middle last season, excels at blocking and brings many assets to the court, especially on defense. She is the team's top returning blocker (1.22 bpg) and is the third-best among all returnees in the league.
Kulovitz sat out last season due to a knee injury but returned in the spring to become one of Utah's top options. She played through knee pain in the spring and keeping her healthy will be key as she showed a lot of offensive potency. Kulovitz is no stranger to court time, though. She played in 20 matches and in 43 games in 2003, averaging 0.93 kills and 0.72 blocks.
Webb worked through a shoulder injury in both the fall and spring of last season to show a lot of improvement. Having never been 100 percent healthy, Webb is an untested variable but has shown a lot of promise on the court.
Baird, a 6-2 middle from Murray, has a lot of potential and could win some time here this season. She was the 4A Player of the Year in the state of Utah. Baird is quick and brings a lot of high-level experience with her.
Emillie Toone could also split time between outside hitter and middle blocker.
A freshman, Krug is as skilled and refined a setter as they come. She could be ready to start immediately having run a similar offense at the high school and club levels. Krug comes to Utah ranked as one of the top setters in the country out of high school and will complement returning setters Porter and Theurer.
Theurer improved immensely after seeing the majority of the setting responsibilities in the spring. Being the only setter, she worked hard and showed a lot of improvement in the offseason. Theurer has the most experience in the program of the three setters.
Porter, a redshirt last season, showed a lot of possibility in the winter but had to practice on a limited basis in the spring due to a broken wrist. She did return to the court in late spring and did very well in the final spring tournament.
Junior Connie Dangerfield returns as the team's libero after stepping up and taking ownership of the position last year.
"Connie has established herself as one of the top liberos in the Mountain West Conference," said Launiere. "She's got one year under her belt and she showed a lot of improvement in the offseason. Connie's confidence level has gotten higher and she has become more consistent because of it."
Dangerfield garnered Libero of the Year honors in 2004. The Cottonwood native was a crucial part of the team's success last year and was second in the conference with 4.17 digs per game. She was the top libero in league-only games with a 4.28 digs-per-game average.
Lacey Lavarias redshirted last season to gain experience. She worked hard in the spring, showing a lot of improvement and will be a capable reserve off the bench this year.
The Utes' schedule features a bevy of some of the top teams in the country.
"Our schedule has us playing some Top 25 teams this season," noted Launiere. "This schedule is a better situation for our team. It's strong enough to get some national-level matches and it still gives us the chance to get some wins against some of the top programs out there."
The 2005 campaign launches when Idaho State and Weber State come to town on Aug. 26 and 30, respectively. But, perennial powers Santa Clara (Sept. 17) and Colorado State (Nov. 12) highlight the home schedule along with heated rival Brigham Young (Nov. 4).
Utah will also tangle with powers Tennessee and Missouri (Sept. 2-3) in Columbia, Mo. The Lady Vols finished last season ranked No. 10 while Missouri was 24th.
The non-conference slate will prove to be a good warm-up heading into Mountain West Conference play. In addition to the three-way battle between Utah, Colorado State and BYU, up-and-coming teams like Wyoming and UNLV could also jockey for position at the top. BYU returns with the most experience in the conference while Utah, CSU, Wyoming and UNLV return to the court with younger squads.
Conference play begins on the road at Air Force (Sept. 23) with the first home date against MWC newcomer TCU (Oct. 1). MWC Tournament play starts on Nov. 24 in Las Vegas, Nev., while NCAA Tourney action begins on Dec. 1.