This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Twice last year, in games against Oregon State and Cal, outside hitter Adora Anae got a season-high 28 kills.
Both times, it took her at least 75 swings to reach that number which is a lot of times to leap. The now-junor said that she walked off the court wobbly legged after both games.
"We set her so many balls last year," coach Beth Launiere said. "We had so many different lineups and different things going on. The one constant was Adora. We rode her."
But finishing 10-21 last season with only four Pac-12 wins (tied for 10th in the league), it was clear to the Utes that Anae needed some help.
As the 2016 season begins, Launiere thinks the team has made the strides necessary to be competitive, as they were in 2014 when the team finished ranked No. 18 in the country. Bringing back Anae, a two-time All-Pac-12 first teamer, is critical, but so is developing the core around her.
"I think we have a lot of weapons," Launiere said. "When it comes to who we depend on and what we do, I think there's more players ready to contribute. We'll have more of that balance we had in 2014."
It helps that two key weapons hitter Eliza Katoa and blocker Carly Trueman are healthy. It helps that sophomore setter Jessie Openshaw (nee Jorgensen) has an extra year under her belt running the offense. It helps that sophomore Berkeley Oblad, a 6-foot-4 middle blocker, spent the summer playing against strong competition in Europe.
But there's also new talent coming into the program. Laurniere points to freshman setter Bailey Choi, the reigning Hawaii Gatorade Player of the Year who played club volleyball with Anae. The Utes also signed junior blocker Tawnee Luafalemana, who won two junior college national championships at two different schools.
Bottom line: It's not just on Anae's shoulders any longer.
"We're going to have a really balanced offense this year," Anae said. "We've got a lot of big, aggressive hitters."
The Utes also point to their offseason program as reason for encouragement. Working with Utah's sports scientist, Ernie Rimer, they structured their workouts to be more volleyball-specific. They worked out in the spring for three hours a day longer than Launiere has ever tried to push her players before.
Just about everyone on the team has improved their vertical and their conditioning. They believe they have more stamina than last year, when they went 1-4 in five-set Pac-12 matches.
"We all made it more of a priority to be here more than normal," Oblad said. "Sometimes you try to go home during the offseason and spend some time away, but we all really tried to be here."
They'll open their season this weekend at the Huntsman Center against Idaho State, Gonzaga and Butler.
"We said a few days into preseason, 'Wow, we're so much better than last year,' " Launiere said. "But that's not what we're comparing anymore. We're at a complete different level."
Utah volleyball hosts Utah Classic
The Utes begin their 2016 campaign at the Huntsman Center:
Aug. 26 • Idaho State, 7 p.m.
Aug. 27 • Gonzaga, 10 a.m./Butler 7 p.m.