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Courtesy University of Utah Athletics
University of Utah setter Jessie Openshaw keeps the ball alive during match earlier this season.
I was definitely leaning toward BYU, but then I got the opportunity to come up on campus at the U. and I fell in love. From then on, BYU was (my) second choice. —Jessie Openshaw

SALT LAKE CITY — Jessie Openshaw's ties to BYU were so deep, it was a bit of a surprise when the two-sport Timpview star chose to play volleyball at Utah.

“My family, obviously, all went to BYU,” said Utah’s sophomore setter, who hopes her friends and family will help turn Smith Fieldhouse into a home-court advantage for Utah when it faces UNLV in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday night at 5 p.m. “I was definitely leaning toward BYU, but then I got the opportunity to come up on campus at the U. and I fell in love. From then on, BYU was (my) second choice.”

Both her parents, Trent and Julie Jorgensen, attended BYU, as did all four of her brothers. Two of her brothers were playing football when she was trying to make her decision, and one is currently a BYU student.

“My brothers were playing football there at the time, so that was a little bit of a struggle for them,” said Openshaw, who married another Provo native. “But once I committed to Utah, they were all very much on board and very supportive.”

In fact, she said they’ll be at Smith Fieldhouse Friday night — wearing red.

“Yes,” she laughed at the thought. “I’ve been able to get them in red. …(They’ll) do it for me.”

Openshaw, a setter who earned 4A MVP as a senior at Timpview and Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year 2013, has helped the No. 22-ranked Utes to their best finish since joining the Pac-12 — fifth place. She and true freshman Bailey Choy run a 6-2 offense that allows the Utes to utilize the powerful hitters on their roster.

While the ended the season on a three-game losing skid, both players and coach said they’re doing nothing but looking forward to an NCAA appearance close to home.

“The break was good,” said Utah head coach Beth Launiere. “We were just a little down after Saturday’s loss (to Colorado). But we had a good talk, and we’re ready to get back down to business.”

The one thing the coach cautioned her players against was looking past UNLV to the possibility of playing rival BYU in the second round. The No. 13-seeded Cougars, who are ranked 10th, will host the first two rounds and will play Princeton at 7 p.m. Friday.

None of Utah’s assistants and many of its players have played in the postseason before. Launiere said one of the highlights for her was listening to the older players explain some of the unique aspects of competition to the younger athletes.

Junior college transfer Tawnee Luafalemana helped College of Southern Idaho win an NJCAA National Championship in 2015, and she grinned at the thought of competing for an NCAA title.

“Honestly, that was the best feeling,” the middle hitter said. “If you win, I think it feels the same. Getting into this tournament is super big, and we’re always going to go for the trophy.”

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Openshaw said the energy at the NCAA’s is different, even on the bench.

“I was on the sideline when we went to Nebraska my freshman year,” Openshaw said. “So I’m excited to be out on the court. It feels different but different in a good way. I’m excited.”

And even though Launiere said she hasn't heard a single word about the possibility of playing BYU again this season, Openshaw said that would be a matchup the Cougars would enjoy.

Smiling, Openshaw said: "I think that's a matchup we'd definitely want."

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