The Utah Valley University volleyball team is seeking to go on a run back to the NCAA Tournament for the third-straight time in what will be head coach Sam Atoa’s 24th season with the program. The season is filled with tournaments, in-state rivals, and tough conference matchups.
“We are always every year shooting towards winning the conference and then also the tournament that would allow us to qualify for the NCAA Tournament,” said Atoa. “…We don’t expect anything less than that, and now not just making it to the tournament but being able to go beyond that. So some high expectations for our team but I think we’re very capable of being able to do that.”
The reigning WAC Champions are coming off an action-packed 16-13 season in 2021, where they made it to the postseason but lost 3-1 to the Utah Utes. Despite losing Kristen Bell and Kaili Downs, who both graduated, the Wolverines are returning just about everyone else from the 2021 NCAA Tournament team, which could potentially set them on the road to the NCAA tournament again this year. Wolverine star Kazna Tanuvasa will be returning to the team as a graduate, along with Hailey Cuff who will be joining the team from Utah State via the transfer portal.
“Our athletes have done very well in the classroom and they’ve done very well on the court,” said Atoa on the success of his teams. “I think that their willingness to come, compete, and listen to what we have to say has been a big reason why we’ve been where we’re at right now.”
Until then, the Wolverines have a full season ahead of them to prepare for the NCAA Tournament. To kick-start their season, the Wolverines have their Green/White Scrimmage game on Tuesday, Aug. 23, at 6 p.m. in the Lockhart Arena. Following the scrimmage, the Wolverines take on the No. 23 Kansas Jayhawks–who won two games in last year’s NCAA Tournament– and Loyola Marymount Lions in a doubleheader for the Utah Classic tournament in Salt Lake City at 12 p.m. MT and 5 p.m. MT, respectively. The team will then have a rematch with the No. 22 Utah Utes the following day to conclude the tournament.
“I think that there’s always that level of intensity that rises because of playing against Utah State, Utah, Weber, and BYU,” said Atoa on the schedule. “And that’s no different now with the two teams that are now in our conference when it comes to Southern Utah and Utah Tech as well.”
In their home debut, the Wolverines will play against the Cal Poly Mustangs on Aug. 29, at Lockhart Arena. Following the first home game, UVU will host the Utah Valley Invitational where they play the California Golden Bears on Sep. 1 and the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks on Sep. 3, both matches taking place at Lockhart Arena.
The team then heads east to Massachusetts for the Harvard/Northeastern Challenge to take on Harvard and Northeastern. Following the challenge, the Wolverines subsequently take on the Utah State Aggies, Weber State Wildcats, and the No. 10 BYU Cougars before taking on the Utah Tech Trailblazers to start conference play.
“There are always those top teams that bring out the best in us,” said Atoa on the WAC conference. “We’re looking forward to competing against them as well.”
The Wolverines conclude the regular season with a two-game road trip against California Baptist Lancers in Riverside, California, and the Grand Canyon Lopes in Phoenix University on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 3 p.m. MT. In total, the Wolverines are set to play 26 regular season games, including one against WAC-newcomer UT Arlington Mavericks.
The WAC Tournament takes place from Thursday, Nov. 17, until Saturday, Nov. 19 in Edinburg, Texas.
The Wolverines could be on track for a successful season, with most of their key starters returning with championship experience under their belt. The team has also gone 20-10 in conference play during the last two seasons to compliment their back-to-back championships.
“Just excited for them that they’re the last ones standing and that’s what we want to continue to work towards,” said Atoa. “To continue to bring that success here for our volleyball program but also for athletics, for the university. I think we take a lot of pride in that, in being the best. And whether the best is with the university or athletics, we hope that we can contribute to the success of the whole.”
Sophomore at UVU. Writer for the UVU review, statistician for UVU ESPN+, and play-by-play commentator for UVU Men’s Lacrosse.