By John Gale
?The Holy War? is associated with the annual BYU-Utah football game, but it could also apply to an-other big rivalry between the schools? volleyball programs that will be renewed Friday, Oct. 27, 2006, in Salt Lake City.
?It was here when I got here, and I just went on with the tradition,? middle blocker Lindsy Hartsock said. ?I don?t really know the story behind it, just that BYU hates Utah and Utah hates BYU.?
The rivalry has existed for some time (this will be the 75th meeting in the series), and there are several reasons for its existence and the intensity that it has developed.
?I think proximity has a lot to do with the rivalry,? BYU coach Jason Watson said. ?And both schools have rich histories, certainly in women?s volleyball, and so I think that has to do with it more than anything else.?
Just 45 miles apart, the schools often battle for conference championships in many sports, including volleyball.
Last year, the Cougars won the regular season Mountain West Con-erence title, but the Utes won the MWC Tournament with a win over the Cougars in the final.
The match tonight will likely decide the conference championship again, as the teams have just one conference loss between them, when the Utes beat the Cougars 3-1 in Provo earlier this season.
The Cougars were missing two of their starters: rightside hitter Erica Lott and setter Amy Schlauder in the first meeting between the teams. Both have returned and will play in the rematch.
?It?s really exciting to have a healthy squad, and to know that we can go into this match with all pistons firing,? Lott said.
Watson said potential NCAA Tournament seeding is also at stake, as well as the recruiting battle be-tween the schools, especially for in-state players.
?We?re extremely motivated, probably the most motivated we?ve been all season besides seeing Stanford in our own gym.? Lott said. ?We don?t want to lose to them.?
Historically, BYU has dominated the series with a 62-20 record, but Utah has won 13 of the last 14 matches, the lone loss coming in Provo last year.
The fans of the two schools are also a major element in the rivalry. The average attendance at the Smith Fieldhouse is 2,147, eighth in the nation. The Utes play at the much smaller Crimson Court, but they have equally devoted fans.
?It?s a very small gym, but because it?s so small, it gets pretty loud,? Hartsock said. ?They have pretty obnoxious fans. They just like to cheer for their team, I guess, and get in your face about it.”
?I?m gonna be honest,? Lott said. ?It?s a tough gym to play in, and so when we win, it?s gonna be a big victory because not only are they a great team, they?ve got a great home crowd to play against.?
Watson said another wrinkle that adds to the rivalry is that many of the players on his team know Utah players from competing with and against each other growing up.
?It just gives you more of an incentive to win because you always want to beat people you?re really good friends with,? Lott said. ?You want them to know that you?re better than they are.?
The two teams dominate the conference in just about every statistical category. BYU leads in hitting percentage, with Utah just behind. Utah leads in blocks, kills and assists, while BYU ranks second in each.
The Utes? only losses came on the road at No. 5 Southern California and No. 7 Florida. Combined with their win over the Cougars, they are ranked ninth, while BYU is 17th, despite just two losses and a win over No. 3 Stanford.
?We don?t care about the rankings,? Lott said. ?We know we?re better than Utah. As long as we end up on top at the end of the season come NCAA time, then it doesn?t matter.?
Tonight, volleyball?s version of ?The Holy War? will go a long way toward deciding that.
No. 17 BYU (19-2, 9-1) vs. No. 9 Utah (19-2, 10-0)
Crimson Court-Salt Lake City 7:00 p.m.
Live radio, statistics on byucougars.com