In her 24 seasons, Utah volleyball coach Beth Launiere has taken the Utes from a one-win team in 1989 to a Top-25 power among the Pac-12 elite. She has led the team to six conference titles and 11 NCAA tournament appearances — including one this season. Deseret News sportswriter Sarah Thomas asked her about her experiences in volleyball.
Q: How did you become introduced to coaching volleyball?
A: I played in college at a small NAIA school in Michigan — Aquinas College. It’s a very small liberal arts school. I also played softball; I was probably better at softball. From there, I just started working camps and fell into a couple of really good assistant positions early on in my career. And I was fortunate to get this job (at Utah) at 26.
Q: What brought you to Utah?
A: The job. I was an assistant coach at the University of Illinois and we’d gone to the Final Four. I was 26; they (Utah) were bringing in a head coach; and there wasn’t a lot of money in the program when I got here. I think they were OK with bringing in a young coach to develop with the program. I met with Chris Hill and Fern Gardner, and they were committed to building the program along with me — and that’s what happened. It was a process of increments. Everything we talked about in the interview, Chris Hill and the athletic department came through over time. It was a really great building process.
Q: From then until now, what kind of changes have you seen inside the Utah volleyball program?
A: It’s just night and day. We started out playing in half of what is now Crimson Court with wooden bleachers. We got Crimson Court in 1994 and now we’re playing in the Huntsman Center. Just the move from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 was I don’t think people can understand how I don’t want to say difficult, because it was fun and wonderful also, but it had its challenges.
Q: Has there been a sense of camaraderie among Utah coaches with the move into the Pac-12?
A: I think that’s a true statement, probably more than any time before. Everybody in the athletic department really has been grinding it out, trying to figure out how to be successful. We all got thrown into this barn burner and I think there was a sense of, ‘How you doing?’ every day — checking up on people because we had to really dig down.
Q: What is your greatest memory in the NCAA tournament?
A: For sure it is with Utah volleyball because it is different when you are the head coach. Probably the two Sweet 16 years stand out. In 2001, we hosted the first and second rounds and beat Utah State to get to the Sweet 16, which was awesome. We played Stanford in the Sweet 16. In 2008, we went to Clemson, won two matches there and then went to Washington in the Sweet 16. Those are just such great milestones for our program.
Q: What is your most memorable Utah team?
A: There was another year (2007) where we didn’t make the tournament, but we had some adversity in the program the year before. I had a team that battled to 15-13 in the fifth (set) of the conference championship and almost got back to the NCAA tournament. That year was one of the most memorable, one of the most amazing years even though we didn’t make it back because of the players on the team. We faced adversity; we lost some players; and then we just battled and almost got back to the tournament. Didn’t get there but then the next year got back to the Sweet 16.
Q: How do you recharge away from volleyball?
A: I try to keep my working out up. That’s very important to me. I spin and work out and do some yoga. I very much end up hanging out on the couch with a remote control in my hand. I like to get lost in mindless movies. I try to get outside, up to the mountains, and clear my mind. And I read.
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.