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The Utes went 0-10 in the Western Athletic Conference in her first year, and Beth Launiere wouldn't post a winning conference record until her seventh season, when she reached win No. 100.
Utah stuck by Launiere, and for 400 more wins and counting, Launiere would stick by Utah.
"It was the perfect job for me, because you could only go up," said Launiere after winning her 500th match Sunday at the Huntsman Center, against Oregon State. "I was young and I was fired up, and the administration was fired up. We didn't really think too much. We just went. Did I think I'd be here for this amount of time and do the things we're doing? No. I don't think anyone can plan that."
Since those first six seasons, Utah has totaled 14 20-win seasons and reached 12 NCAA tournaments while progressing from the WAC to the Mountain West to the Pac-12.
Rules have changed. Players have changed. To Launiere, who is 500-317, it feels like she's had 26 different jobs.
"My motivation, really, is to take a group of players and form them into a team, and every year is so different from any other year," she said. "It doesn't feel like the same job when you think of it that way."
Her 26th season has been a challenging one. Utah lost six key players and both assistant coaches from a team that reached the postseason for a second consecutive year, and it had lost nine straight matches before beating the Ducks and the Beavers in succession this weekend.
During last week's buildup, Launiere asked players to write 10 things on the white board under the heading "What is Utah Volleyball?"
She grabbed the marker when they were done and whittled it down to three her opinion, obviously, fairly qualified.
No. 1 • Tradition.
No. 2 • Family, unity and team.
No. 3 • Working hard and having fun.
With an emphasis on No. 3.
"If it's not fun, it's not worth it," Launiere said. "Because it's too much of a grind."
She's been pleased with this team's resiliency, she said, if not always its results. Utah (9-14, 3-9 in conference) swept the final three sets against Oregon State (4-18, 2-10), winning 19-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-20, and sophomore Adora Anae broke her own rally-scoring era school record with 28 kills.
"We just kept saying, 'Just keep jumping, Adora,' because she was getting tired, no question," Launiere said.
It was an Anae kill after misses long and then wide that punctuated Launiere's milestone.
Immediately following the victory, Utah's players surrounded Launiere for a photo, and she was then honored on behalf of the U. with a video tribute and a trophy given to her by senior woman administrator Nona Richardson.
"You can see how happy she is and just how grateful she is for everything that we've done, and we're grateful for her, as well," said senior setter Kendall Cygan, who led the Utes with 30 assists. "... Five hundred wins, that's a lot. You can't even fathom 500 wins."
Addressing the crowd about the significance of No. 500, Launiere joked, "I think that just means I'm old."
Launiere's Utes will be hard-pressed to win her No. 501 next weekend, as they visit No. 5 UCLA on Friday and No. 2 USC on Sunday.
Launiere's milestone wins
500 • 3-1 vs. Oregon State, Nov. 1, 2015
400 • 3-2 vs. BYU, Sept. 25, 2009
300 • 3-0 vs. Idaho State, Aug. 26, 2005
200 • 3-1 vs. UNLV, Nov. 16, 2000
100 • 3-0 vs. Utah State, Sept. 20, 1996