SALT LAKE CITY — The 11th-seeded Utah women’s volleyball team is one step closer to advancing to its first Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament since joining the Pac-12 after a 3-0 sweep Thursday over the Cleveland State Vikings.
Utah (23-9) finished the match on a 10-0 run in the final set to advance to the second round of the tournament, sending the Vikings (22-8) packing. Utah won the third set 25-12 to secure the win.
The Utes were led by senior Adora Anae, who finished the match with 11 kills and 13 digs in the winning effort. Anae, who was recently named to the All-Pac-12 First Team for the third consecutive season, only had one kill in the first set but found a rhythm in the second with six kills in a highly-competitive set.
The Vikings challenged the Utes in the second, taking its first lead of the game on a 6-0 run to lead the Utes 18-17. But Utah answered with a 4-0 run of its own to retake the lead and the eventual win on an Anae kill. Utah would win the second set by a score of 25-21 in the only competitive round of the night.
"We knew that Cleveland State would have a pushback and they did in set two because they are a good team, but I thought we also handled that," Utah coach Beth Launiere said after the match. "We talked about ebbs and flows throughout the course of the match, but I thought we handled what came at us."
Anae said the team was able to resist Cleveland State's charge by capitalizing on their weaknesses after identifying some of what the Vikings were trying to do in the first set.
"Coach Beth said to keep being aggressive and the second one was to keep defending them well because we weren’t in the first set, but did in the second set," Anae said.
Utah jumped out to a quick 5-0 start Thursday, showing its diverse skill over the visiting Horizon League team. The Utes extended its lead with a couple runs to take a commanding 22-9 in the first set. The Vikings, however, would go on a quick run, but Utah steadied the short surge and closed out the set with a 25-14 win.
"I just told our team in the locker room that I loved our preparation for that match," Launiere said. "I loved how we came out from the start. That’s been a focus of ours all week and we have been talking about it."
The Utes have never lost to a Horizon League opponent and now hold a 5-0 record over the conference. The Vikings have made it to the NCAA Tournament the last four consecutive seasons, but have been paired up against Pac-12 opponents in each match and have been bounced from the first round every year.
Aside from the strong effort from Anae, Utah finished with a .337 hitting percentage and had six others players with a kill. Senior Carly Trueman added nine kills and one block, while sophomore Bailey Choy finished with a team-high 26 assists. The Utes would finish with 34 assists.
"I thought Bailey ran the offense wonderfully and got a lot of hitters involved," Launiere said. "Adora led us with 11 kills, but we had some really high percentages from some of the other players. We had some nice offensive distribution and Bailey did a really nice job running the offense."
Utah will face Purdue, who beat High Point 3-1 prior to Utah’s match, at the Huntsman Center Friday at 7 p.m. for a chance to advance to the Sweet 16 round of the tournament.
"They are big and physical," Anae said of Purdue. "We already have some notes on them. They have a priority hitter, No. 20, and she hits out of the front row and the back row, so we are going to have to focus on them but it is more about us."
Utah was bounced from the first round of the tournament last season, losing 3-1 to UNLV, with hopes to return to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008.
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