Eleven times Tuesday night, they didn’t have to. The Wolverines flustered BYU-Hawaii in Orem with 11 serving aces en route to a three-set victory (25-19, 25-21, 25-20) one day after surviving a five-set marathon against Syracuse. True freshman McKenna Tait led the serving onslaught for Utah Valley, acing in six points.
Wolverines head coach Sam Atoa labeled the team’s serving game, which also turned in 13 aces in the season-opener against Illinois State, as one of their strengths going forward.
“We’ve done very well with our serving for these first nine matches. It’s something if eel we’re going to continue to take advantage of. We’ve got girls that can serve, and they can serve tough. Tonight mckenna really placed the ball and put it where it needed o go. She has control of where her serves are going and that makes it really tough to defend against.”
The victory ended an unusual nine-game homestand to open the season for UVU, who will now embark on a nine-game road trip that includes the Air Force Invitational and games against Kansas State and Idaho State. Atoa labeled the season-starting home slate a blessing for the Wolverines, who are attempting to incorporate 11 underclassmen into the program, including seven freshmen. Ironically, it was a youthful lineup that sealed the victory in the third and final set.
After seeing a six-point lead dwindle to a 17-14 margin, Atoa inserted sophomore Lindsay Barker into the game, making for a six-woman lineup of sophomores Barker and Brookelyn Campbell, junior Erica Nish and true freshmen Erin Jolley, Cassie Wahlin and Tait. The arrangement, featuring just four years of combined college experience, went on a 4-0 run to put the set out of reach.
“I wanted to give the girls an opportunity to get on the court,” Atoa said. “We were doing a really nice job serving and passing. Some of the girls didn’t get on as soon as I would like to. We’ve got some good young kids. They’re the future of our program and with the opportunities they’ll get to have some experience, I think it’s going to work out really well.”
Nish bounced back after a supbar offensive game against Syracuse, turning in a team-high 13 kills at a .455 clip to go along with two service aces of her own. Sophomore Patti Flagg had 17 digs and senior Jaicee Kuresa, fresh off being named the Great West Conference Player of the Week, turned in seven kills at a .364 rate.
For Kuresa, who made a delayed return to action after missing the first three games of the season, being able to play has already superseded any formal recognition.
“I just go out there and have fun and play with passion,” Kuresa said. “It’s just about me doing my thing and helping my teammates.”
After playing six games in seven nights, the Wolverines will have two days off before traveling to the Falcon Invitational hosted by Air Force. The tournament will feature the host Air Force, South Carolina Upstate and Northern Arizona, who beat UVU in Orem last month 3-1.
“I’m real pleased with where we’re at after these nine matches,” Atoa said. “Now we’re on the road and it’s a completely different environment. I hope we can take some of what we learned and be able to execute the way we know how to on the road.”
Matt Petersen can be reached at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @SportsWriter93.