Utah will hit the sand courts for its second beach volleyball season in 2018.
Utah welcomes back All-Pac-12 Second Team and Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honoree Dani Barton, along with fellow returnees Berkeley Oblad, Adora Anae, Tawnee Luafalemana, Bailey Choy, Brianna Doehrmann and Lauren Sproule. Former Ute Brenda Whicker is in her first season as the head beach volleyball coach. Following tournaments in Honolulu, Long Beach and Tucson, the Pac-12 Championship takes place April 26-29 in Palo Alto, Calif.
The Utes advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the third time in school history in 2017 and earned their highest finish in the AVCA poll, coming in at No. 11.
Utah finished 24-10 for the program's fourth 20-win campaign in the last five years. The Utes also had their best season as a Pac-12 Conference member, finishing fourth with a 13-7 record.
Earning the No. 11 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament-the highest in school history-Utah won the Salt Lake City Sub-Regional by defeating Cleveland State and Purdue. The Utes fell in five sets to No. 2-ranked Texas in the Stanford Regional semifinals.
Senior outside hitter Adora Anae became Utah's first-ever first-team All-American and was named the AVCA All-Pacific South Region Player of the Year. A two-time All-American and three-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection during her illustrious career, Anae is the school's all-time leader in kills (1,920) and attempts (4,915) and ranks third in digs (1,319).
Senior Tawnee Luafalemana and junior Berkeley Oblad, both middle blockers, earned honorable mention All-America and first-team All-Pacific South Region honors by the AVCA. Luafalemana led the Utes with 152 total blocks and 22 solo blocks. She also had a team-high .368 hitting percentage, which ranks as the third-best mark in school history. Oblad ranked second on the team with 142 total blocks and a .318 hitting percentage. She heads into her senior year in 2018 with 711 kills, 164 digs and 323 total blocks.
Senior outside hitter Carly Trueman became the 18th Utah player to become a member of the 1,000-kill club and earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention. Sophomore setter Bailey Choi became the eighth player in school history to become a member of the 2,000-assist club and the fifth player to net 1,000 assists in a season during the rally-scoring era.
Three freshmen outside hitters also made significant contributions. Dani Barton rounded out the team's top five in kills (1.48 kps) and hit .229. Kenzie Koerber ranked third on the team in blocks (0.82 bps) and was sixth in kills (1.28 kps). Shannon Scully ranked fourth in digs (2.30 dps) and led the way with 25 service aces.
With more than 500 victories to her name, Utah head volleyball coach Beth Launiere enters her 28th season at the helm of the Ute Volleyball program in 2017.
Reinvigorated by a permanent move into the Jon M. Huntsman Center for all home matches, Launiere and the Utes now have their sights set on moving up the ranks after six seasons in the Pac-12 Conference.
Launiere guided Utah to its 13th NCAA Tournament appearance in 2016 after going 20-12 overall and finishing fifth in a very competitive Pac-12 Conference race. Launiere posted her 16th 20-win season at the helm of the Utah program. Utah also managed to record a program-best 11 wins in Pac-12 play, which included seven victories on the road.
Launiere has coached players to first-team All-Pac-12 honors in back-to-back years with Shelby Dalton earning honors in 2014 and Adora Anae in 2015. In 2014, Launiere guided the Utes to wins in seven of their last eight regular-season matches—including five victories over Top 25 teams—and the second round of the NCAA tournament. It was the 10th time the Utes advanced beyond the first round under Launiere. The Utes have also reached the NCAA regional semifinals twice (2001, '08).
Launiere's ability to attract top-notch talent has helped take Utah to the forefront of collegiate volleyball. She has guided eight Utes to All-America honors while 12 have garnered all-region accolades. Utah's 2011 freshman class was ranked 20th in the nation by prepvolleyball.com, while the 2005 freshman class was ranked as the eighth-best by Volleyball Magazine.
Launiere was named the AVCA West Region Coach of the Year three times (2001, ‘06, ‘08) and the MWC Coach of the Year on three occasions (2004, ‘06, ‘08).
JJ Van Niel is in his third year at Utah. He serves as the team’s head beach volleyball coach and is an assistant on the hardwood. Van Niel spent the 2016 summer in Rio, serving as a scout coach for the U.S. Olympic Women's Volleyball Team.
He joined the Utes after serving as a consultant coach and scout for the USA Women's National Volleyball Team that won its first gold medal in the 2014 FIVB World Championship. Van Niel was previously a technical coordinator with the USA U23 Team that placed fourth at the 2013 FIVB World Championship, won silver at the 2014 Volleymasters and gold at the 2014 World Championships.
Van Niel also worked with San Diego's COAST Volleyball Club, serving as head coach of its elite travel teams for the past five seasons. He was an assistant coach for the UC San Diego men's volleyball program from 2011-14 and the girls' volleyball head coach of La Costa Canyon High School in 2014. Van Niel and his wife, Maria, have three children, Kaleb, Olivia and Nathaniel.
Malia Shoji is in her third year at Utah. Shoji was named an assistant coach for the Pac-12 Volleyball All-Star Team that toured China in the summer of 2016.
She made the move to Salt Lake City after serving as an assistant women's coach at Western Oregon University from 2012-14.
Shoji was an assistant coach with Willamette University in 2011 and helped establish the Capital City Elite Volleyball Club, serving as the director of business operations. Shoji was the lead coach for the Gold Medal Squared Volleyball Camps (2012-14), and has also been a head coach at the junior varsity and club levels.
Shoji played collegiately at Irvine Valley College from 2005-07. Malia's father, Tom, has been an NCAA volleyball coach for more than 30 years. Her uncle, Dave, currently ranks second in NCAA in career wins after 40 years at Hawai'i.
Beau Lawler is in his second year as the director of operations and third year with Utah volleyball.
Lawler spent his first season with the Utes as the team's video and statistics coordinator. Lawler now manages the day-to-day operations of the volleyball program, which also include taking the lead on social media and digital content for the team. He serves as the summer camp director for the program.
Prior to his coming on board at Utah in 2015, Lawler worked for Apple as the director of retail operations in the Utah market. He also worked at Nike for four years, serving in the same capacity for both the Orange County, Calif., and Utah markets.
A native of Agoura Hills, Calif., Lawler is pursuing a degree in mathematics with an emphasis in statistics and a minor in computer science at the U.
Kate Holdeman is in her fourth season with the Utah volleyball program, previous serving as the director of operations from 2014-15.
Holdeman's responsibilities primarily involve cultivating positive relationships within the Salt Lake community. She also handles volleyball alumni relations efforts and overseeing special events and reunions throughout the season.
Holdeman (formerly Robinson) was a four-year letterwinner for the Utes as an outside hitter from 2004-07. She has coached in the Salt Lake City area since 2005, including head coaching stints for the Elite 14s and 17s teams for the High Country Volleyball Club from 2011-13, as well as the Elite 17s and 18s teams at the Utah Juniors Volleyball Club from 2009-11.
Kate and her husband Scott have a daughter (Zoey).