The Utah women’s volleyball team hopes to earn one of the 16 host berths in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, after last season’s experience of having to play BYU in Provo in the second round. The No. 18 Utes could help themselves by beating No. 12 BYU at the Huntsman Center.
Utah (8-2) will conclude nonconference play Thursday night against the Cougars (7-2), after dropping slightly in the AVCA rankings with losses to No. 6 Pittsburgh and Cal Poly in Pepperdine’s tournament last weekend at Malibu, Calif. BYU will visit No. 2 Stanford on Saturday before moving into West Coast Conference play.
NO. 12 BYU AT NO. 18 UTAH
Thursday, 6 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks.
Admission: free to fans wearing red.
BYU swept Utah in three sets in each of two meetings in Provo last season, including the NCAA match in December. The Cougars will serve as another gauge of Utah’s improvement. The Utes started this season 8-0 before losing twice last Saturday, falling to Pitt in four sets what coach Beth Launiere labeled a “heavyweight slugfest” and then failing to put away Cal Poly in a five-set marathon. The teams had played five sets in Salt Lake City last month, with Utah outlasting the Mustangs.
“It definitely shows us where we’ve got to go,” Launiere said of the weekend performance. “If you win kind of easily, it just doesn’t give you the information you need. There’s a lot of information we took from it.”
Utah junior Dani Drews posted 26 kills vs. Cal Poly, but the Mustangs won the fifth set, 18-16.
“We still have big goals, and I think we’re still in reach of them,” said Utah middle blocker Berkeley Oblad. “You have to fail a little bit to get better, and I think we’ve seen things we need to work on.”
BYU’s only losses are to teams currently ranked in the top 10, with each match going four sets — against No. 8 Marquette in Provo and No. 3 Texas in Wichita State’s tournament. Cougar senior McKenna Miller has posted at least 10 kills in every match and freshman setter Whitney Bower had a remarkable match against VCU with 42 assists, 15 digs, five aces and four kills last week in Wichita, Kan.