After clinching at least a share of the Mountain West Conference championship on Friday with a win over Wyoming, the Utah Utes volleyball team tried to become the second team in MWC history to finish the season undefeated in conference play.
To accomplish this feat, the No. 17 Utes had to defeat the No. 10 CSU Rams on Saturday night – it didn't happen.
The Rams (22-3, 13-1 Mountain West Conference) suffered a bit of a scare Friday night as they just barely pulled out a win over BYU in five games, 18-30, 30-25, 36-34, 25-30, 17-15. But they rebounded against Utah (21-4, 13-1 MWC) to take three straight games (30-26, 30-22, 30-20) from the Utes before a crowd of 951.
Now with their only losses coming against each other, CSU and Utah share the title of MWC champion going into this week's conference tournament. It is the fifth title for the Rams.
Three Cougars recorded double-doubles on Friday. Sophomore middle blocker Lindsey Hartsock had 14 kills and a career-high 13 blocks while junior setter Lauren Richards had 48 assists and a career-high 13 blocks. Senior outside hitter Lindsey Metcalf had a team-best 15 kills, 17 digs and six blocks.
"I'm really proud of our team," said BYU head coach Karen Lamb in a press release. "I'm disappointed we lost but I'm not disappointed in them. We battled and battled and battled and earned this win but it didn't go our way."
On the Rams' side of the net, junior outside hitter Tess Rogers hit a
season-high 21 kills, three service aces and five blocks, three of them solo.
Senior middle blocker Katie Jo Shirley-Cahoon added 17 kills and also recorded her 1,000th kill as a Ram in game two. Senior outside hitter Becky Sarauer had 15 kills and senior middle blocker Bri Frech had 15 digs and a team-best six
blocks. Sophomore libero Kristen Karlik dug up 14 balls.
"BYU played a great match tonight," said CSU head coach Tom Hilbert in a press release. "Their backs were up against the wall, feeling they needed a win tonight to have a chance to get into the NCAA Tournament. We responded to the pressure though, playing good defense when we needed to. This match will only prepare us for later in the season."
While the Rams lead the conference in offensive areas, it was the defense that shined on Saturday against Utah. Out-blocked by the Utes in the Oct. 15 match, the Rams returned the favor, recording 11 blocks to Utah's seven. The Rams had 10 service aces, four from sophomore Katherine Whitney, while the Utes had just two.
"I thought that CSU played well," said Utah head coach Beth Launiere. "We didn't play our best game but the Rams had a lot to do with that. That was the first challenge we have had in a while and I think it affected us."
Senior middle blocker Lyndsey Henderson led the Utes with 10 kills and four blocks. Senior setter Tracy Neumeier had 20 assists and nine digs.
Sarauer led all players with 11 kills, also picking up the 1,000th of her career. Senior setter Melissa Courtney had 33 assists and 15 digs. Junior right-side hitter Dre Downs had 10 kills and hit .500 for the match. Frech kicked in three service aces.
"I'm extremely proud of this team," Hilbert said. "Dre Downs was unstoppable tonight and was a huge spark. Melissa Courtney played great defense and our serving was key."
After losing a coin toss to Utah, CSU will have the No. 2 seed in the MWC Championship Tournament in Fort Collins that starts on Thursday. The Rams will play seventh-seeded New Mexico at 7 p.m. Thursday. No. 1 Utah will face No. 8 Air Force at 11 a.m., No. 4 UNLV will play No. 5 Wyoming at 1:30 p.m. and No. 3 BYU will face No. 6 San Diego at 4 p.m.