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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
The University of Utah women's volleyball team reacts to being selected on Sunday to host Cleveland State in the NCAA Volleyball Tournament.
Our seniors have been providing us tremendous leadership. The second half of the season and like I said, they weren’t shy about putting it on their goals. —Beth Launiere

SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly a year ago, the Utah volleyball players made a commitment to each other that they would earn the right to host the first rounds of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

“Starting last January it was our goal to host and to get one of those top 16 seeds,” said head coach Beth Launiere, after it was announced that Utah was seeded No. 11 and will host the Horizon League’s Cleveland State Thursday at 7 p.m. “So for us, it was a goal met. And we hope to reach more goals as we go along the way.” Launiere and her players said it has been one of their most important aspirations to be able to share the experience of earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament with their very dedicated fans.

“To be able to play in front of our fans that have been tremendous all season long …it’s huge,” Launiere said. “I think we’re averaging over 2,000 fans, and I really hope they come out and support us. You know, we couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”

The Utes will host the first two rounds of the tournament starting with two matches on Thursday night. High Point and Purdue will play at 4:30 p.m., followed by Utah and Cleveland State (22-7) at 7 p.m. The winners will play again on Friday night at 7 p.m.

“Our seniors have been providing us tremendous leadership,” Launiere said. “The second half of the season and like I said, they weren’t shy about putting it on their goals. That’s what they wanted to do this year. I think that was pretty bold. And I think it’s a great accomplishment by our whole team to get that done.”

Senior outside hitter Carly Trueman was surprised the Utes earned a No. 11 seed.

“I knew we were tight for hosting, and we weren’t sure what was going to happen, but being No. 11 is an honor,” she said. “It’s really cool.”

The Utes finished the season 22-9 with a 13-7 conference record. After losing back-to-back matches against Washington and USC, the team bounced back to beat No. 18 UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona. They were swept by Stanford, but then defeated Colorado in their regular season finale.

“I think a lot of it has to do with wanting to finish strong,” Trueman said. “I think having some momentum going into the tournament will be really good for us.”

The players were thrilled about earning the opportunity to host the first two rounds of the tournament.

“It doesn’t matter where we play,” said senior outside hitter Adora Anae. “But we’re excited to host.”

The team’s seniors said last year’s first-round loss in Provo provided them motivation in the offseason.

“Last year doesn’t dictate what we do this year, but we kind of kept it in the back of our minds,” Anae said. “We kind of made a goal, specific goals to start the tournament and go as far as we want to.”

The seniors said playing at home will be a huge advantage.

“I think we’re all pretty excited,” senior Tawnee Luafalemana said. “No one is really nervous at this point. We’re all just waiting for this moment.”