Utah wears pink to take on Arizona, Arizona State

S---Volleyball

October is best known for Halloween and the black and orange color scheme of the season. However, in the sports world, October is turning more and more pink. In 2009, the NFL started a pink campaign to raise awareness for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Games played during October feature pink cleats, pink sweatbands, pink towels, pink sideline gear and even pink penalty flags.

The campaign started by the NFL has grown to include a number of sports. Pink uniforms and gear have been seen everywhere from high school football to women’s college volleyball. In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Utah will don pink uniforms for tonight’s home match against Arizona.

The match against the No. 14 Wildcats starts off a weekend where Utah will play two top-25 teams. The Utes will also host No. 17 Arizona State on Sunday.

The Utes head into Friday night’s match looking to bounce back after suffering back-to-back five-set losses to Colorado and Oregon State to open Pac-12 play. Head coach Beth Launiere gave her team a break from practice Monday to focus on film study.

“We don’t to do film sessions as a group too often anymore, we do a lot more individually,” Launiere said. “Sometimes you gotta watch them together and make sure everybody is on the same page.”

Launiere says she’s impressed with the work her team has put in this week during practice.

“The team is working really hard, we’re focusing on our blocking and implementing some new things offensively,” she said.

Arizona comes into Crimson Court on fire, having won seven straight matches, including a 2-0 start in conference play with victories over Arizona State and UCLA.

The Wildcats have one of the most dynamic attacks in the country and are ranked second in the Pac-12 with just under 15 kills per set. Arizona outside hitter Madi Kingdon currently leads the nation with 14.33 attacks per set and should make life difficult for Utah tonight.

One of Launiere’s biggest worries is how her team will stand against the size of Arizona. The Wildcats include eight players who are 6-foot-1-inch or taller.

“They have a lot of size and a great player in Madi Kingdon,” Launiere said. “Their setter is a difference-maker also.”

To prepare for the Wildcats’ size, the Utes practiced with assistant coaches Brian Doyon and J.J. Riley on boxes so they could hit over the top of all of the players.

On Sunday the Utes will face Arizona State, who doesn’t have as much size as Arizona but has a weapon of its own in Macey Gardner.

“She is really good, and she’s going to get 60, 70, 80 swings at us,” Launiere said. “However many they have to set her, they’ll set her. That’s key for us being able to shut her down.”

The Utes were able to slow down Gardner last year in Tempe in a four-set Utah victory.

“We’ve done a pretty good job on Macey, but she’s a year better and it’s going to take that much more effort,” Launiere said.

Kirby recalls the victory against the Sun Devils and the strategy against Gardner.

“We realized that the ball was gonna go to her the majority of the time,” Kirby said. “So we put our big blockers on her and started taking her down.”

Fellow senior Lea Adolph added that it was “pretty fun” beating Gardner and Arizona State.

She hopes to have a similar feeling come Sunday.

b.jasarevic@chronicle.utah.edu

@BenJasarevic

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