Utah received its highest AVCA preseason ranking in school history in the spring of 2021, coming in No. 10. It was also picked to win the Pac-12 Conference championship for the first time in the pre-season poll.
The Utes are coming off a 2019 fall where they finished 24-10 overall and 14-6 in the Pac-12, sitting in a tie for third. They advanced to the Sweet 16 where they pushed eventual national champion Stanford to a fifth set before the Cardinal prevailed. The Utes were the only team in the NCAA Tournament to win a set off the Cardinal.
Coming off its second NCAA Sweet 16 in three years, Utah returns three AVCA All-Americans, including Dani Drews from the first team and Kenzie Koerber from the second team. Drews and Koerber were picked for the Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference Team. Overall, Utah returns 10 players from a season ago.
After being named a Second Team All-American after the 2018 season, Drews raised the bar in 2019 becoming the second player in program history to be named an AVCA First Team All-American. She had a historic season setting a new single-season record in kills with 643 and was named the Pacific South Region Player of the Year. In Pac-12 play, Drews was third overall averaging 4.76 kills per set. She has had 15 matches with over 20 kills and two matches with over 30. Against USC, she set a rally-scoring program record with 33 kills while also hitting .348 in the match. Drews also led the team in aces with 34. Never coming off the floor, Drews had 278 digs and 72.0 blocks.
Koerber earned Second Team All-American honors in 2019 after being a force on the right side all season. She was the only Pac-12 student-athlete to earn Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors. Koerber was great on defense as well finishing third on the team with 109 blocks and second on the team with 323 digs.
Saige Ka'aha'aina-Torres is the third All-American back this year after earning honorable mention honors. In her first season starting, she set a Utah single-season record with 1,518 assists. Ka'aha'aina-Torres had 10 matches with at least 50 assists and two matches with 67 assists. That's the most assists a Utah setter has had since 2010 and Ka'aha'aina-Torres did it twice.
Zoe Weatherington was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team. The heavy-armed righty averaged 2.44 kills per set. She had 15 matches with double-figure put-aways and came up big against highly-ranked Pittsburgh, BYU, Stanford and Washington.
Six players have been training for the beach volleyball season exclusively all fall, including veterans Jessica Villela, Olivia Teerlink and Keana Smalls.
Villela went 5-7 as a freshman last year playing in the three spot with Lauren Sproule. Teerlink goes into her senior season after being named Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention while playing with Kinga Windisch and Phoebe Grace in 2019. Smalls returns for her second season with the team after playing in the four or five spot.
Two graduate transfers have joined the team. Mckenna Granato transferred from Hawaii, where she played on the indoor team. She was named to the All-Big West First Team in 2017 and 2018 playing outside hitter. Granato led the team in kills her junior and senior season.
The other graduate transfer is Tiyana Hallums. She played libero at Gonzaga and totaled 454 digs her senior season, having 20 digs in at least nine matches. Hallums left Gonzaga as the program's all-time leading digs leader. Shayne Francisco is the sixth beach-only player on the roster. She is a freshman from San Capistrano, Calif.
The most successful coach in Utah volleyball history, Beth Launiere has built the program into a national power.
In 30 years at the U, Launiere has registered 588 career victories, including 275 conference wins, and an all-time winning percentage of .614. She has guided the Utes to 18 seasons with at least 20 wins and 16 NCAA Tournaments, including four Sweet 16 appearances. Utah has made six of the last seven NCAA Tournaments and advanced to the regional semifinals twice in the last three years.
The 2019 season was one of Launiere's best as she was named both the Pac-12 and AVCA Region Coach of the Year. Utah went 24-10 overall and had its highest finish in the AVCA poll at No. 9. The Utes placed third in the Pac-12 with a 14-6 record, achieving their highest finish with most wins since joining the “Conference of Champions” in 2011. A program-record four Utes earned All-America honors, including Dani Drews, who become Utah's second first team selection. Five Utes earned post-season recognition from the Pac-12 Conference.
Launiere has been named an AVCA Regional Coach of the Year four times (2001, '06, '08, '19) and a conference Coach of the Year on four occasions (2004, '06, '08, '19).
Launiere has guided 13 Utes to All-America honors while 17 have earned AVCA All-Region accolades. Twelve Utes have earned All-Pac-12 recognition under Launiere and five have made the All-Freshman team. Adora Anae became Utah's first-ever First Team All-American in 2017, and was a two-time All-America and three-time All-Pac-12 selection during her career. Drews is a two-time All-American while earning All-Pac-12 honors twice.
Launiere coached for USA Volleyball every summer from 2009-11. She got back on the sidelines with USA Volleyball in the summer of 2019 as an assistant for the U.S. Women's Collegiate National Team University Games in Napoli, Italy.
Launiere's impact on the sport goes well beyond the court. She served as the AVCA President during the 2009 calendar year. She joined the AVCA Board of Directors in 2004 and served a three-year term as the Division I Volleyball Coaches Representative from 2005-07 after being a part of the AVCA's All-America Committee for five years.
Launiere arrived at Utah in 1990 and took over a team that had compiled a 1-32 record the previous year. Inspiring a turnaround in the program, she recorded Utah's first winning season in seven years (18-15) in her third season in 1992. Utah earned its first postseason berth in 1993, placing third in the NIVC, and made NCAAs for the first time in 1998.
Prior to coming to Utah, the Grand Rapids, Mich., native was as an assistant coach at Illinois (1988-89). The Illini went 57-12 during Launiere's stay and made it to two NCAA Tournaments, including the 1988 Final Four.
An assistant at Ferris State (Mich.) from 1985-87, Launiere helped the Bulldogs earn three postseason bids, including an appearance in the 1987 NCAA Division II Final Four.
Launiere graduated in 1985 from Aquinas College in Michigan. She earned a bachelor's degree in business administration and economics and has a master's in sports administration from Illinois.
Malia Shoji is in her sixth season with Utah volleyball program. Shoji was elevated to associate head coach after serving three years as an assistant coach. Shoji has helped led the Utes to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including the regional semifinals in 2017 and 2019.
In addition to her on-court duties, Shoji has also been the team's recruiting coordinator the past five seasons. In 2017 and 2018, the Utes signed top-30 recruiting classes according to PrepVolleyball.com, including the 11th-ranked class in 2017 for the highest in program history.
With Shoji's success with the Utes, she has had several international opportunities. She was an assistant coach for the 2019 USA Volleyball High Performance Women's Junior A1 Team. Following her first season with 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.
Dan Corotan is in his third season with the Utes. He helped guide Utah to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2018 and the Sweet 16 in 2019, and has been instrumental in developing Utah's outside hitters. Dani Drews was a First Team AVCA All-American while Kenzie Kerber made the Second Team in 2019.
Before joining the Utah staff, Corotan coached at Utah Valley. In three years with the Wolverines, the team went 45-44 overall and 28-14 in Western Athletic Conference play. UVU was the WAC runner-up in 2016 for the program's highest league finish. The Wolverines finished in the top eight in the nation in blocking in 2016 and '17.
Prior to being named UVU's assistant coach in 2015, Corotan served as the team's video and stats coordinator. Corotan also has coaching experience at the club level, coaching various boys' and girls' teams at the club level around Utah. Corotan graduated from BYU in 2014. He was a standout volleyball player at Los Alamitos High School (Calif.) and played club beach volleyball for several years.
Former Utah standout Brenda Whicker is in her third season as the beach volleyball head coach for the Utes.
Following a decorated indoor career at Utah from 1994-97, Whicker has played beach volleyball for over 20 years. One of the top players in the state and the region, Whicker played on the beach circuit from 2009-10 and qualified for the 2013 AVP Tournament in Salt Lake City. She has conducted beach volleyball camps and clinics for the last five years.
Whicker is one of just five Ute indoor players who have registered 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs during their careers. She ranks third all-time with 1,565 career kills and fourth overall with 1,313 career digs. She is the program's all-time leader with 161 career service aces.
Sheldon Carvalho is in his first year as Utah volleyball's director of operations and second year as assistant beach volleyball coach.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Carvalho lettered in volleyball, basketball, and track in high school, and was selected to the Kauai Interscholastic Federation (KIF) all-star team in volleyball as an outside hitter.
Since his playing days, he has worked with USA National Team member and University of Hawaii men's volleyball All-American Allen Allen on his A2 Beach Clinics. He was also involved with the Akamai Beach Tour.
Carvalho trained youth players in Alaska while serving as the associate head coach during the summers for the Pass to Play youth beach program. He also played men's doubles and co-ed doubles summer sand volleyball in the Alaska Outdoor Volleyball Association.