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SALT LAKE CITY — After losing to then-No. 19 Stanford Sunday, Utah fell a game behind Washington State for third place in the Pac-12 Conference volleyball standings.
So when the Utes welcomed the Cougars to the Huntsman Center Wednesday night for the first game of senior week, they had enough riding on the win and needed no other source for motivation.
Dani Drews had 21 kills, 15 digs, and two blocks; and Stef Jankiewicz had 43 assists, eight digs, and a pair of blocks to help No. 12 Utah defeat No. 21 Washington State in straight sets 25-22, 25-18, 25-23.
"I'm pleased with a win, but I'm even more pleased with how we executed at a high level, and we executed the things that we struggled against Stanford on Sunday," head coach Beth Launiere said. "We dug a lot of balls today, and we covered our hitters, we got tips up — things that got us trouble on Sunday."
Coming into the game, the Cougars led the conference in Pac-12 play by holding teams to a .202 hitting percentage. During the first set, the Cougars defense held the Utes to .109 hitting, but Utah's defense was just a little better.
Despite 10 errors during the first set by the Utes, Utah was able to contain the Cougars' high-powered offense to .000 hitting in the set, and added 15 kills, including six from Drews, en route to a 25-22 victory.
"We served really well during the set," the thirty-second year head coach said. "They have some really good middles and when you serve tough, you neutralize them a little bit; I thought that's what we were able to do."
During the second set, the Utes had three service errors early in the set and traded points back-and-forth with the Cougars. Launiere called a timeout to regroup her team down 15-11 midway through the set.
Zoe Weatherington, who had 11 kills during the match, had a kill immediately out of the timeout and Drews followed with a pair of her own. The three attacks sparked a 14-3 scoring run for the Utes to close the end the match and to take a 2-0 set lead.
"One of the things we talked about going into the match is that there's ebbs and flows to every match, and to just stay calm and confident and not get reactionary to things," Launiere said. "When we were down 15-11, in the timeout I just said, 'Hey, this is one of those ebbs and we've just got to ride it out here and get back to scoring.'"
Utah finished the second set with only three errors, and together the team combined for a .348 hitting percentage, in addition to 19 kills on 19 assists and 28 digs.
The Utes and Cougars traded points throughout the next set that had 11 ties and seven lead changes, but the Utes grabbed the largest lead of four points.
After a late kill by Drews that put the Utes up 24-20, the Cougars battled back with kills by Argentina Ung and Magda Jehlarova, and an attack error by Utah to give Washington State hope of a fourth set.
Laurniere — once again — called a timeout to calm her team. It was an attack error by Ung that gave the Utes their final point needed out of the timeout to end the set and match.
The Utes will celebrate five seniors during the last regular season game Saturday against Colorado, who swept Utah earlier in the season.
"This is just a great group," Laurniere said of her seniors. "I told them whether they've been here one year or five years, they've had a big impact on this program. So that's a big deal for me and us and this program.
"Colorado beat us there; we've got work to do. They're good, so we've just got to figure out a way to win the match."