Nov. 25, 1997
LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Utah gave the 14th-best team in the country all it could handle on Tuesday afternoon before falling to Hawai'i in five games in the quarterfinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament at the MGM Grand Garden.
In a building that is typically a boxing venue, the 2-hour and 27-minute match rivaled any heavyweight fight with both teams exchanging punches and counter punches. Hawai'i, 24-6 overall and the winner of the Western Athletic Conference Pacific Division with a 14-0 record, won 8-15, 15-10, 13-15, 15-12, 15-8.
Utah jumped on the Rainbow Wahine 9-1 in the first game on a kill by Kalani Tonga, going on to a 15-8 win. Utah also led 7-2 in the second game before being outscored 13-3. The Utes fell behind 11-6 in game three before ripping off a 7-point run to take the lead 13-11 on a kill by Shakula. The huge swings of momentum continued in game four, as Utah took off to a 7-1 lead before UH ended the game with a 14-5 spurt. Utah was within 5-4 of Hawai'i in game five.
Senior Brenda Barton-Whicker led Utah with 18 kills and 17 digs. Freshman Jen Snow had 17 kills, 21 digs and a .289 hitting percentage. Shakula also had 17 kills and 12 digs. Freshman setter Lucie Turkova had 62 assists, eight kills and nine digs.
Utah outhit Hawai'i, .205 to .192, and had more kills, 80 to 71. Blocking, which was key in the match, was even at 12 a piece going into game four. It ended up a 23-15 advantage in Hawai'i's favor.
"We touched a lot of balls early in the game and that was a key to our good start," said Ute head coach Beth Launiere. "They picked up their blocking late in the match."
"I'm very proud of this team," Launiere continued. "We played very well and had some opportunities. Against a good team you never think you've got it, but in game four I though that we were in position to win. Seven of our eight losses have come against ranked teams. We've been close a few times against them, but we just haven't been able to close one out."
Utah, 22-9, awaits a possible NCAA Tournament bid on Sunday.