Sept. 20, 1997
LOGAN, Utah -- The Utah volleyball team continued its winning ways this weekend with a first-place showing at the Utah State Invitational. It was the second tournament title in as many weekends for the Utes, who have won eight matches in row.
Utah won its final match of the tournament from in-state rival Utah State in four games, 13-15, 15-7, 15-8, 15-12.
The Utes started slowly in both the first and third games, allowing the Aggies to get out to 5-0 leads. Utah came back in the first game to go up 11-6 and 13-11 before USU to won it 15-13. In the third game, Utah tied it at 5-5 and fell behind 8-5 before scoring the last 10 points to win 15-8.
The Aggies didn't go down easy in the decisive fourth game either. After Utah went out in front 5-0, Utah State came back to tie it three times, the last at 12-12. Utah scored the last three points, including an ace by Sara Shakula to send it to match point.
Shakula had a match-high 18 kills, 10 digs and hit .438 to lead Utah. Kalani Tonga had 12 kills, six digs and five blocks. Brenda Barton-Whicker had 11 kills and a match-high 17 digs. Graciela Torres posted 43 assists.
"That was a much improved Utah State team from a year ago we beat," said Ute head coach Beth Launiere. "We had to make a lot of adjustments, and we had to have some people really step up for us to win. Sara Shakula was great, as she had been throughout the entire tournament. We're really playing well as a team heading into the WAC season next weekend."
The Utes opened on Saturday with a 15-4, 15-6, 15-8 defeat of Portland. It was a solid all-around performance for Utah, which outhit the Pilots .339 to .185 and had nine blocks to Portland's two.
Tonga and Barton-Whicker paced the Utes with 10 kills. Tonga hit .435 and had a match-high six blocks. Barton- Whicker, the AVCA National Player of the Week, hit .348 with a match-high 11 digs. Shakula posted nine kills, nine digs and hit .320.
Utah opens Western Athletic Conference play next Thursday at New Mexico.