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Utes advance to 2nd round following 4-set win over Utah Valley

Utah’s Amelia Van Der Werff hits the ball against UVU in an NCAA volleyball game at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.

Utah’s Amelia Van Der Werff hits the ball against UVU in an NCAA volleyball game at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. (Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News)


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Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

PROVO — Following Utah's four-set win in the first round of the NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament over Utah Valley, fifth year outside hitter Dani Drews said opportunities like her team has now should not be taken for granted.

It's an opportunity to be in the national tournament; an opportunity to take the court at Smith Fieldhouse and compete against the Wolverines; and another opportunity to play on Saturday for a chance to advance to the Sweet 16.

"There's some people on our team this year that have not been to the tournament before, and that was something I didn't even really think about," Drews said. "It's just a good reminder: It shouldn't be something to be taken for granted. Even making it to the tournament at all is something to be really grateful for. We put a lot of work to be able to get here."

The work to get back to the tournament for a sixth-straight year happened on the court and in practice over the last eight months, but the work Drews also refers to is the improved chemistry and culture of the Utes.

"For me, being a transfer, this is my first round win ever of my career; so this was super exciting for me no matter who it was against," senior setter Stef Jankiewicz said. "I think our culture is really great; we have a really close group of girls, and I think in the end that's what led us to win."

On Friday night, the first set started with a pair of attacking errors by the Utes, and it was followed by a series of traded scoring runs until the Utes and Wolverines were tied at 13. After the Utes got their first-game jitters out of the way, they went on a 12-3 scoring run, which included a run of six-straight serves by Drews, including two aces, to close out the set.

Zoe Weatherington, who finished the match with eight kills and five blocks, began the second set with a powerful kill; but the small 1-point advantage was the only lead the Utes saw in the set.

Tori Dorius and Kendra Nock blocked Madelyn Robinson for the Wolverines' first point of the set, and Bryton Bishop followed by serving back-to-back aces. The Wolverines took advantage of the Utes being out of sync and not being able to find a constant rhythm and won the second set 25-22.

"The first set we were winning the serve-pass battle, and then in the second set we weren't and they were just getting in system quite a bit," Utah head coach Beth Launiere said. "We started serving a lot tougher and our passers came up and started getting us a bit more in system and we got our offense going."

After the break, the Wolverines were riding high from their second-set win and battled with Utah to begin the third set as they traded points. By the time the score was 5-5, there had already been four ties.

Utah Valley took the next point from a kill by Kazna Tanuvasa that landed in the middle of the entire Utah team that nobody moved to attempt to dig. Following Tanuvasa's kill, the Utes went on a 6-1 run to retake and extend their lead, which included kills by four different players and an ace by Jankiewicz, who finished the match with 46 assists.

The Utes had a .222 hitting percentage and racked up 15 kills while holding Utah Valley to just .069 hitting as they ran away with the third set 25-18.

The Utes continued to find their footing and played tough in the fourth set where they logged a .450 hitting percentage and held Utah Valley to -.034. The set started out with a 12-2 scoring run after being tied at 2 points. During the run, Vanessa Ramirez served three aces while Drews added another; and the Utes continued to aggressively serve and attack the net en route to a 25-12 set win.

Three players for the Utes finished with double-digit kills. Drews led the team with 18 and added 12 digs and three blocks; Robinson had 13 kills, seven digs and three blocks; and Amelia Van Der Werff added 10 kills on 13 attempts to go along with seven blocks.

The Utes will have a quick turnaround as they play rival BYU Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Round of 32 at Smith Fieldhouse.

"Everyone has come in with a really good mindset. We're all really locked in trying to be super present," Drews said. "We knew coming into the tournament it is a quick turnaround. … I just think we all are in a really good mindset together as a team. We're all really bought in and want to win."

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