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2011 Utah Volleyball Preview: Setters/Liberos

Abby Simmons and the Utes begin their 2011 season Friday against Weber State.

Abby Simmons and the Utes begin their 2011 season Friday against Weber State.

Aug. 18, 2011

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With the first serve of the 2011 Utah volleyball campaign eight days away, utahutes.com preps fans for the beginning of the season with a breakdown of the Ute roster as well as a look at the upcoming schedule for Utah's Pac-12 debut. This is the fourth in a five-part series about the student-athletes Utah has at each position heading into the season as well as the competition they will face.

Monday, Aug. 15: Right-side Hitters
Tuesday, Aug. 16: Outside Hitters
Wednesday, Aug. 17: Middle Blockers
Thursday, Aug. 18: Setter/Liberos
Friday, Aug. 19: Schedule

Setters and Liberos Crucial to Utah's Success in 2011:

A pair of juniors will lead the Utes from the setter position.

McKenzie Odale made the first two starts of her career at last season's Utah Classic and had a career-high 29 assists and added five digs against UC Davis. She also had 23 assists and career highs of four kills and three blocks against Utah State. Her versatility was shown as she gathered the first two career double-doubles: 18 assists and 11 digs at Missouri State and 21 assists and 15 digs against Pacific.



"[McKenzie Odale] gained a lot of experience and along with her athleticism, she is making her presence felt on the court," Launiere said. "She brings a level of athleticism to the floor that we've never seen in the setting position. She's arguably the best athlete on our team." Abby Simmons returns from a thumb injury suffered during preseason training last year. In 2009, she finished 10th in the MWC with 5.43 assists per set and owns six career double-doubles, including 24 assists and a career-high 14 digs in a sweep at BYU.

"[Simmons] got back into the swing of things, in terms of running the offense after her thumb injury," Launiere said. "She has two years of experience running the offense under her belt during her freshman and sophomore years.

"They are both doing really well and they both bring something different to the court."

Nikki Sim, Candace Tufaga and Lea Adolph will compete for playing time as Utah's libero.

Sim, a sophomore from Salt Lake City, is the lone returner in the group. She appeared in 20 matches last season and popped up four digs at New Mexico.

"[Sim] stepped up in the libero position last spring," Launiere said. "She's still unproven, but showed signs that she's ready to take on more responsibility for us in the back court. She's ready for the task."

Tufaga, a native of Kahuku, Hawaii, played two seasons at Sheridan College before joining the Utah program and had 2.02 kills per set last season for the Generals. In 2009, she played in 78 sets and averaged .45 service aces per set during, which ranked 41st in the nation.

"[Tufaga] played outside hitter at the junior college level but her ball control skills are what attracted her to us. She can pass," Launiere said.

Adolph, a native of Waltrop, Germany, attended Pascalgymnasium in Muenster and played club volleyball for TV Datteln, SCU Luedinghausen and USC Muenster. She was a member of some very successful teams as she helped her squad take fourth at the 2010 Junior European Championship.

"We're excited to bring [Adolph] here from Germany," Launiere said. "She's played libero at the highest levels in German Junior Volleyball as a member of the junior national team. She's a fiery competitor, who's talented and comes with a lot of experience."

Setter Player Notes:

McKenzie Odale
Jr. • S • 5-11 • Jr. • Star, Idaho • Eagle H.S.
May be the best athlete on the team ... [Strength and Conditioning Coach] Jon Webster thinks she may be the best female athlete to ever play at Utah based on the things she can do in the weight room ... a playmaker who earns three or four points each set just on her athleticism ... gained a lot of experience this spring.

Abby Simmons
Jr. • S • 6-0 • Phoenix, Ariz. • Desert Vista H.S.
Started at setter during the 2008 and 2009 seasons ... is now back to 100 percent after thumb injury in preseason camp last season ... runs the offense very well and has a good feel for her hitters and teammates ... playing at a much higher level than when she finished her sophomore year because she is a year stronger and quicker.

Libero Player Notes:

Lea Adolph
Fr. • L • 5-6 • Waltrop, Germany • Pascalgymnasium
Competed at the highest levels in German Junior Volleyball as a member of the junior national team ... a fiery competitor and talented player ... possesses a lot of experience.

Nikki Sim
Fr. • L • 5-7 • Salt Lake City, Utah • Juan Digeo H.S.
Stepped up this spring when she had the opportunity to be Utah's No. 1 defensive player ... surprises coaching staff every day in practice ... has a good feel for the game ... good passer who is very quick on the court ... reads the defense well ... has been working hard at gaining strength.

Candace Tufaga
Jr. • L • 5-7 • Kahuku, Hawaii • Sheridan College
A very good passer who will make a big difference ... played outside hitter at the junior college level so she played all of the time and all the way around ... a nice athlete with very good ball control skills ... how she adjusts to the speed of the game will depend on how ready she is.

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