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SALT LAKE CITY — How sweet it is!
The Utah women’s volleyball team advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament Friday after defeating the Purdue Boilermakers 3-1 in the second round of the tournament. Utah returns to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008 and the first time since joining the Pac-12.
"Unbelievable match in terms of competitiveness," Utah coach Beth Launiere said. "I thought those were two really great teams going at it tonight. Purdue is an amazing team; they’re as physical of a team that we have ever played this season, I think."
Utah (24-9) took a commanding lead early and was looking for the sweep after winning the first two sets, but Purdue (23-10) had other plans, as the Boilermakers came out in the third set and routed the Utes in a 25-13 win.
The Boilermakers looked to continue the momentum in the fourth set and took a 22-18 lead before Utah rallied to tie it up 24-24. Utah would eventually go on to win the set 27-25 on a kill by freshman Dani Barton and then an attack error by Purdue’s Ashley Evans. Barton finished the match with 3 kills in the winning effort.
"Lots of stuff goes through your head when you are down 22-18 and 24-22," Launiere said, "but just a week ago we were down 23-20 at Colorado and we came back and won that fourth set. I felt like we were pretty confident and felt that it was great volleyball being played."
Utah senior Adora Anae said a late timeout in the fourth set helped fuel the team's hopes of getting the win prior to their comeback. She said she told herself that “we are winning this for sure” because "the way we walked off the court and the way we responded.
"We talked about a championship mindset and we weren’t thinking elsewhere, but forward," she added. "I thought our team showed some mental toughness in that situation."
Purdue ended the match with a better overall hitting percentage (.356 - .253), but Anae continued her strong tournament performance, finishing with 27 kills (.367) and 12 digs to lead all players.
"Statistically, Purdue put up some huge numbers, but I thought we just got some things done and made some plays late in the fourth set that made the difference."Launiere said. "It was a great volleyball match, great environment, and I couldn’t be happier."
Utah senior Tawnee Luafalemana added 12 kills (.385) and three digs, and senior Carly Trueman added 10 kills (.091) and one dig in the win. Sophomore Bailey Choy, who had a strong performance against Cleveland State Thursday, finished with 40 assists and two kills in an incredible performance for the Utes.
Utah and Purdue started out the match trading points before Utah went on a 3-0 run to take an 18-14 lead. Purdue fought back with a 5-0 run of its own to tie it all up 21-21. But Utah weathered the challenge and escaped with a 25-23 win in the first set on a Trueman kill to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
The Utes used the first set momentum to jump out on a 5-1 run that included two aces by sophomore Brianna Doehrmann. But as the case for much of the game, Purdue went on a 4-0 run of its own to tie up the game at 5-5. The two programs would trade points for much of the set before Utah went on a 6-0 run to extend its lead to 22-18.
Purdue, again, answered with a 4-0 run to challenge the set, but Utah freshman Shannon Scully recorded an ace to mark the set point before Anae secured the win with her 13th kill of the match.
Utah will await the winner of NC State-Texas, who will play Saturday, Dec. 2. The Utes will not know where they’ll play in the Sweet 16 round until Saturday night, but will likely play at either Stanford or Texas. The regionals will, however, be played next Friday and Saturday. Should both Stanford and Texas lose in the second round, Utah would host the Sweet 16 round.