SMITHFIELD — For stretches, the Aggies played right with the nationally ranked Utes on Tuesday night at the Estes Center.
Now Utah State must learn from the experience and improve by being more consistent. That’s the plan for the Aggies, who fell in straight sets to No. 19 Utah, 25-22, 25-17, 25-19.
“The game of volleyball is who can be consistent the longest,” USU middle blocker Bailey Downing said. “We have really good team chemistry, we love each other. It’s a whole different team than last year. We have three freshmen starting who are working their butts off.”
In all three sets, the Aggies (0-4) fell behind by a large deficit. Each time they rallied to make the game interesting. However, USU did not hold the lead late in a set, despite getting close.
“We need to have consistency over time,” Aggie head coach Grayson DuBose said. “We need to do all the little things for a longer period of time, for sure. When we were hanging with them and doing some fun stuff, we were taking care of our side. We need to keep that behavior for a longer period of time than what we did.”
In each set USU enjoyed an early lead. But the Utes (4-0) would put together a run to surge in front. The third set did have three ties and three lead changes before the visitors took charge.
Still, the Aggie coach feels his team has made progress from the season opener last week.
“That is a good team. They just beat Kentucky who was in the Top 10,” DuBose said of the Utes. “That’s a good volleyball team. Their veterans have played for a long time. ... I like where we’re going. I like this group of kids. They are really good people and work hard every day in the gym.”
Seven different Aggies had at least one kill. Downing led the team with five and drew praise from the coach.
“She (Downing) blocked some balls and is doing what we have asked her to do,” DuBose said. “She worked the block well. I think she is figuring some stuff out. That connection with (setter) Heidi (Carpenter) is getting better. As she (Downing) goes, we kind of go.”
With a new setter this season, it has taken some time for the team to build chemistry. DuBose said “time” is the key.
Middle blocker Corrine Larsen and outside hitter Gabbi Shumway each had four kills for the Aggies. Dani Drews led the Utes with a match-best 14 kills and 10 digs. Utah also got 10 kills each out of Leah Schmidt and Berkeley Obiad.
The Aggie defense had its best moments on the block as the team recorded a season-high 13 blocks to Utah’s eight. Downing was also the team leader in that category as she tallied a career-best seven block assists to go with one solo. Larsen had five block assists.
As a team, USU hit .048 to Utah’s .222.
In the first set, the Utes used a 8-0 surge to break a tight set open. But despite holding a 18-8 lead, they struggled to finish off the Aggies, who put up a fight.
USU got a kill from Shumway to begin a 5-0 run. Shumway also had an ace during that surge. The Aggies would get within 24-22, but the Utes closed the rally with a kill from Drews.
“Utah can definitely swing and have a lot of wins under them,” Downing said. “I think it was exciting to play them. Now we know how good we can be. We have those spurts of flow and greatness. I think if we can keep feeling those moments and working hard, we will be showing up this year.”
In the second set, Utah used a 12-3 run to get some breathing room. However, USU answered with a 10-3 surge to get to within 23-17 before the Utes finished it off with back-to-back kills.
Utah used a 5-0 spurt early in the third, but the Aggies responded with four straight points. After two lead changes and two ties, the Utes capped a 4-0 surge with a long rally with a kill.
The largest lead in the third set for Utah was the final score as the Utes scored the final four points of the match.
After opening the season with four home matches, the Aggies head to the North Portland Marriott Invitational hosted by Portland this weekend. The Aggies will open the tournament on Friday with matches against Washington State (2-1) and Idaho (1-2). USU will then face the host Pilots (2-1) on Saturday.