The Wolverines hosted North Dakota Friday night, challenging the team to four matches. A collective effort from coach Sam Atoa’s starters and bench players would lead Utah Valley to a 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 25-19) victory, crowning them the regular season Great Western Conference Champions.
During the first set against Southern Utah University on Tuesday night, middle blocker Erica Nish left the game as a result of an injury. The announcement was made on Wednesday that the junior had torn her ACL and would be sitting out on Friday night’s game against University of North Dakota.
With the regular season conference title on the line, Utah Valley would be without Nish during Friday night’s game against the Fighting Sioux, counting on sophomore Katie Fritzler to help lead the team.
Atoa described the win as a collective effort. Going into Friday night’s match, he expected the loss of Nish to result in one of two ways: a negative force from the team, or a better excuse to come together and bring home the championship.
“We had to work hard and we knew that North Dakota was going to be tough,” Atoa said. “Everybody had to step up with Erica out. I thought that Katie [Fritzler] did a nice job defensively; everybody did a little bit. We dug some ball and we played some really good defense.”
The first set started with a six-point run by Utah Valley as their offense successfully placed their shots. Sarah Clement led the team with five kills and zero attack errors while libero McKenna Tait and Chelsey Heaps scored a combined six points off of service aces. Tait went on to score a career high of seven aces.
Utah Valley struggled defensively during the second set as North Dakota increased their kill percentage from .200 in the first set to .290 in the second.
“There were some struggles there, no question,” Atoa said. “However they were able to be composed and stay composed.”
That composure was evident in setter Brookelyn Campbell. Despite the loss of the second set, Campbell led the team in scoring four kills with a .600 attack percentage. Campbell carried on the composure through the rest of the game, notching a triple-double with 10 kills, 36 assists and 12 digs.
“It’s what we’ve been working for all season,” Campbell said describing the championship. “We all wanted it so bad and it showed out there. It was a great victory.”
The Wolverines finished the game in the fourth set as middle blocker Sarah Clement and outside hitter Jaicee Kuresa each scored three kills and sophomore Lindsay Barker shot a .333 percent with 5 kills off the bench.
“There was definitely a lot of energy, it was very fun,” Clement said. “We were clicking really well. We just got that lead in the beginning and just kept going.”
Utah Valley will prepare to play in the GWC tournament at The University of North Dakota. The tournament is scheduled for Nov. 17-19. Until then, they team will soak up their collective win against UND as the GWC regular season champions.
“I’m just proud that the girls stayed disciplined at what they had to do,” Atoa said.