PROVO — Perhaps everything there is to know about the Utah women's volleyball team was told during the final stretch of the third set during the Utes' straight set (25-23, 25-18, 27-25) over Denver in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
The Utes had been cruising in what proved the final set, up 18-12 before the Pioneers staged a big 11-3 run to take the lead at 23-21. The teams traded single points from there, giving Denver two set points, up 24-22 with the match appearing very likely to extend beyond three sets.
But that's when Utah gathered itself and dug in, quite literally.
Following a timeout, the Utes staged a long rally, digging just about every attack imaginable until a Denver error gave Utah the point and a burst of momentum necessary to close things out.
"I felt like there was a lot of fight in us, and I feel like we've had so many rallies like that lately, where we have just battled through," said Utah coach Beth Launiere. "... I thought so many people came up big in those long rallies."
Utah went on to fight off Denver's second set point, eventually coming back to take a 27-25 set three win for the sweep and a ticket to the second round.
"It was a little intense. We were definitely getting fired up," said Utah outside hitter Dani Drews. "... I thought everyone did a good job of stepping up … it was big-time defense for us to be able to come back from that."
As for Drews, she proved "big-time" herself through all three sets. Not only did the Brighton High School product score a match-high 18 kills, but she also contributed 12 digs and a service ace.
"We've got a nice terminator to finish out those long rallies," Launiere said of Drews. "It's nice, and she certainly came up big tonight as she has for a long time."
Setting Drews throughout was junior Bailey Choy, who tallied 33 assists and 12 digs while also proving to be one of the team's big emotional leaders.
"Bailey is running this offense. We hit over (.300) percent against a good defensive team," Launiere said. "So there's very little I need to talk to her about."
It wasn't all about Drews and Choy during the win, with Megan Yett and Kenzie Koerber scoring 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Libero Brianna Doehrmann added 16 digs while playing a central role in extending a lot of rallies that eventually ended in points for the Utes.
Denver was led by Becca Latham and her team-high 13 kills, along with Lydia Bartalo, who added 11.4 comments on this story
Denver battled hard throughout and played the Utes tough throughout the first set, but ultimately falling by a tight 25-23 margin. Utah bounced back to control the second set, spurred on by a 12-5 run midway through that gave them a commanding 20-13 lead.
"I could not be more proud of this team," Launiere said. "This last three weeks of the season we've just found a lot of ways to win matches, and tonight was just another step on what we've been doing for the last three-four weeks of the season."
With the win, Utah advances to take on BYU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday at 7 p.m. MST.