Dennison’s record-setting performance, postseason win highlights UVU volleyball season

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Photo by Maricel Evangelista

A seasoned group of seniors, three preseason all-conference selections among them, had the UVU volleyball team setting its sights higher than the third-place preseason conference prediction assigned to them by the media. However, a slow first half to the year cast doubt upon even a third-place finish. Entering conference play, the team sat at 5-10 and was on a six-game losing streak.

That streak was broken by a 3-0 sweep of Seattle in the Wolverines’ conference opening match, a win which seemed to blow air into the sails for the Wolverines. Over the first seven games of the conference season UVU played its way to a 5-2 record, highlighted by a victory over perennial conference power New Mexico State in the Lockhart Arena. This 5-2 mark was good enough for second place in the WAC standings at the midpoint of the conference schedule.

The final portion of the season was not as kind to the Wolverines though, as inconsistent play plagued them over their final seven matches. However, after a pair of victories to close out the year, the team found itself in a two-way tie for third place.

Entering the conference tournament as the No. 3 seed, the Wolverines drew a favorable first round matchup in UMKC. After an opening round victory over the Roos, the Wolverines were hopeful they could earn a second straight berth to the conference title match. It was not to be, as UVU was handed a second-round loss by UTRGV and was eliminated.

“I thought we had a good season,” said head coach Sam Atoa. “We were expecting to go further than we did, and it’s unfortunate we weren’t able to pull off a match where we felt like we had chances.”

Despite coming up short of achieving their season goals, the 2017 campaign was filled with bright spots and plenty of highlight reel moments, many of them provided by a pair of seniors. Madison Dennison and Lexi Thompson each earned first team all-conference nods after unparalleled performances in their final year as Wolverines. Thompson led UVU and was fifth in the WAC in kills during the season with 183, while Dennison leaves as the school’s all-time leader in blocks.

“Making the all-conference team was a way of showing that hard work and the things that we would sacrifice outside of volleyball and in the offseason, really paid off. I really felt like me and Madi deserved that and worked really hard for that,” said Thompson. “That was a really great way to top it off.”

In addition to the excitement and gratitude felt for the great honor of being named first-team all-conference, a certain measure of ambivalence surrounds the reality of having suited up in a Wolverine uniform for the last time.

“It’s kind of bitter. Not even sweet at all,” said Dennison. “I’m going to really miss volleyball, it’s just been a part of me for so long. It’s sad to see it end.”

The team will be saying goodbye to three other seniors: Brighton Taylor, Marija Martinovic and Sierra Starley, the four-time Wolverine assists leader. Heading into the offseason, the coaching staff will be looking to address the departure of these five seniors.

“It’s hard to replace experience,” said Atoa. “We have some young kids that I feel like contributed, and that we’re going to need to rely on quite a bit. We go from a fairly senior heavy team, to one senior for next year. So we’re going to rely on a few younger kids, with less experience, to be able to help kind of pick up where the seniors have left off.”

One talented young player that will help fill the shoes left empty by the graduating class is Kristen Allred. Third on the team in kills and fifth in assists this season, Allred showed enough to be named to the all-conference freshman team.

The coaches will be looking to her and several other young players to be key contributors heading into next season. A somewhat disappointing end to the season may provide motivation to the new young core, for next season and beyond.