Aug. 30, 2004
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What's on tap?
Scouting the opposition:
The No. 24-ranked University of Utah women's volleyball team plays five matches in six days to open the 2004 campaign. Utah hosts its season opener against Utah Valley State College on Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. Then, the Utes head off to Los Angeles to play Liberty and George Washington (Sept. 3 at 11 a.m., and 2 p.m. ), Long Beach State (Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m. ) and UC Irvine (Sept. 6 at 3 p.m.).
Utah Valley State College was 10-14 last season and completed its first season as a Division I program in 2003. As an Independent, the Wolverines were picked to finish fifth in a poll of seven independent coaches and select media. Seven letterwinners return from last season, four of them starters. Malia Roberts is the top returning kills leader. She averaged 2.36 kills per game. They are coached by Sam Atoa. In his sixth season, he has an overall record of 148-45.
Liberty went 23-11 last season, boasting a league-best 13-1 record in Big South play. This year's preseason coaches poll has the Lady Flames picked third in the conference. Liberty returns nine letterwinners, including four starters from 2003. Among the returning starters are Becky Rudnick (second on the team with 3.51 kills) and the No. 1 setter, Kristin Colson (11.24 assists). Head coach Shane Pinder is in his first season at the helm.
George Washington was 21-11 last year and finished tied for third in the Atlantic 10 with an 8-6 mark. GWU was picked to finish fourth in the preseason coaches poll. The Colonials have 10 letterwinners coming back, including three starters. Leading the returnees are Lindsey Vernand, who is tops among the returners in kills per game (2.48), Shannon Parks (1.03 kills) and defensive specialist Molly Law. Jojit Coronel begins his fifth season at GW. He owns a 71-48 all-time record.
Long Beach State finished 19-11 last year, going 12-6 in the Big West. It was picked in the conference preseason poll to finish second and is also listed among others receiving votes in the USA Today
/CSTV preseason coaches poll. The 49ers finished in a three-way tie for second in the Big West last year. All-conference player Erika Chidester leads 14 returning letterwinners, six of which were starters. She averaged 4.55 kills and 2.64 digs per game last year. The Beach is coached by Brian Gimmillaro. In his 20th season, he is 529-121 for his career.
UC Irvine went 24-10 last season en route to its first NCAA berth in 15 years. The Anteaters were 12-6 in the Big West, good enough to finish in a tie for second. UC Irvine, picked preseason to tie for second with rival Long Beach State, is also receiving votes in the USA Today
/CSTV preseason poll. Four all-conference performers return, including All-American Kelly Wing and her 5.74 kills per game. Setter Ashlie Hain (13.64 apg) and middle blocker Sami Cash (.363 hitting percentage) are also among the four returning all-conference players. Charlie Brande enters his fifth season at the helm of UC Irvine. He owns a 56-64 career mark as the Anteater's mentor.
The Utes have a combined record of 5-10 all-time against this week's competition. Utah owns a 1-0 mark against both Utah Valley State and George Washington, a 2-7 record against Long Beach State and a 1-3 tally versus UC Irvine. Utah spikers have never met Liberty on the volleyball court.
Quoting Head Coach Beth Launiere--
On the preseason workouts:
"I feel that we had a good preseason. All of the athletes showed up in good shape and, as a result, we were able to accomplish a lot. But, it's like football players who are ready to hit an opponent at the end of fall workouts; we are anxious to play someone other than ourselves. We are ready to hit the ball at other people. We still have some question marks in terms of depth but I think that's a good problem to have."
On starting the season:
"The team showed up in good shape and our team has good depth. So, playing the five games in six days won't be a problem for us. It's good to a play a lot of games at the start. That gives us the chance to answer the questions that don't come up in practice."
"With the goals we have at the national level, every match counts. We look to get after it right from the start."
The University of Utah opens the 2004 campaign ranked No. 24 in the USA Today
/CSTV preseason coaches poll. Dating back to last season, it is the third straight week Utah is ranked in the poll. The Utes cracked into the poll on Dec. 8, 2003, at No. 25. They finished the season the No. 23 squad in the country. The team's highest preseason ranking was No. 13 in 2002. The highest overall ranking was No. 8 from Sept. 2-16 in 2002.
A hefty strength of schedule:
The Utes will battle four other teams ranked in the top 25 pre-season poll: No. 3 UCLA (Nov. 17), No.11 Colorado State (Oct. 15, Nov. 13), No. 13 Hawaii (Nov. 24) and No. 25 Notre Dame (Oct. 19). All four teams come to Crimson Court while the Oct. 15 CSU match is in Fort Collins, Colo.
In addition to playing four ranked teams, on Utah's slate are three squads listed in the ranking as receiving votes: Long Beach State (Sept. 4), Brigham Young (Sept. 24, Oct. 23) and UC Irvine (Sept. 6).
MWC poll tabs Utah third:
The Utes were picked to finish third the Mountain West Conference pre-season coaches poll. The Utes' 97 points was just short of Colorado State's 118 and BYU's 100. CSU nabbed 14 of the 15 first-place votes. Utah was the only other school to get a first-place nod.
Rank Team Pts.
1. Colorado State (14) 118
2. BYU 100
3. Utah (1) 97
4. San Diego State 65
5. Wyoming 58
6. UNLV 40
7. New Mexico 33
8. Air Force 28
A pre-season favorite:
Shelly Sommerfeldt earned pre-season all-conference honors. The junior outside hitter finished her sophomore campaign with all-MWC honors and was seventh in the conference with 3.64 kills per game. She was also selected to the MWC all-tournament team.
At the helm:
Beth Launiere begins her 15th season as the mentor of the Utah women's volleyball program. She owns a 275-171 all-time record. She has led her squad to NCAA Tournament appearances the last six seasons, including a "Sweet 16" showing in 2001. Following the "Sweet 16" showing, Launiere was named the 2001 Tachikara/AVCA Division I West Region Coach of the Year. Launiere's Utes have recorded nine 20-win seasons, and last year, Utah posted a school-record 12 conference victories. A native of Grand Rapids, Mich., Launiere graduated from Aquinas College and was an assistant at Ferris State and Illinois before taking over the Ute program in 1990.
On the air:
Radio broadcasts and live video streaming of home volleyball games will be available on the Internet at the official athletics Web site, www.UtahUtes.com. In addition, the Nov. 13 home match against Colorado State will be televised on College Sports TV (CSTV). It will air on a tape delay on Nov. 14 at 2:30 p.m. (MST). Check with your local cable or satellite provider for more information on CSTV.
The Utes return to Crimson Court on Saturday, Sept. 11 to host Utah State. That match begins at 7 p.m. A six-day rest and the Utes are at it again, hosting the Hampton Inn Utah Classic on Fri.-Sat, Sept. 17-18. The four-team round-robin tournament features No. 3-ranked UCLA, Northern Colorado and Saint Mary's.