Utah Valley University opened up play at the La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Invitational on Friday at Lockhart Arena. They defeated both Portland State (3-2) and UC Davis (3-0) to earn their first two victories of the season.
This was a good sign for the Wolverines, showing that they can bounce back and be resilient from a competitive tournament, like last week at BYU’s Nike Invitational.
“The girls did really nice,” said head coach Sam Atoa. “Anytime you serve and pass well and you keep yourself in the system good things are going to happen. I’m really happy for them and excited for them to kind of get out of this little bit of a funk that we’ve had in the last couple of matches that we’ve struggled at, but this was a good night tonight.”
In the first game of the day, UVU overcame a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Portland State Vikings 3-2 with scores of 20-25, 21-25, 25-21, 25-16 and 15-6.
The Wolverines struggled in the first two sets against the Vikings as they were hitting just .022, including 21 errors on 23 attacks. The Wolverines would improve their performance in the final three sets, however, hitting .303. The opposing Vikings’ average fell to .044 throughout the same stretch.
The Vikings started on the offensive early in the match, pressuring the Wolverines into 14 attack errors in the opening set. As a result, Portland State got out to an early lead with a 25-20 victory in the initial set. Only two of the Vikings’ first 13 points in the match came on kills, as the Wolverines had 10 attack errors in the opening part of the set.
However, UVU was able to discover a new gear after that, as they hit .279 and .353 in the third and fourth sets, respectively, to even the match. The Wolverines stayed on the attack in the fifth and final set, causing the Vikings to commit eight attack errors and finalizing the 3-0 comeback to defeat PSU.
There were multiple bright spots for UVU in the win against PSU. Sophomore Kazna Tarawhiti with a team-high 15 kills, senior Jasmine Niutupuivaha with a game-high seven blocks to go along with 14 kills, senior Madi Wardle recording a team-high 26 assists and junior Seren Merrill racking up a game-high 29 digs. UVU is now 2-0 against PSU in the history of these two pairing up.
In the second and final match of the day the Wolverines were able to sweep the UC Davis Eagles with the scores of 25-10, 25-13 and 25-23.
UCD (4-1) had only lost one set on the season at the hands of Sacramento State before meeting with UVU on Friday. Nevertheless, UVU set the tone early in the first set of the match and it ultimately proved to be too much for UCD to overcome.
Although the second set was much closer than the first, the Wolverines still came out on top behind a strong offensive performance. Tarawhiti had nine kills in the set, helping the team to hit at a .517 mark. This was another strong sign in a positive direction for the Wolverines, seeing such drastic improvement on something they struggled mightily with earlier in the season.
The third and final set was the closest of them all. Both teams battled point-for-point, with UCD taking a lead late in the set 18-17. UCD was on top at 21-23, but four errors from the Aggies side of the court guaranteed the win for the Wolverines.
“Tonight against UC Davis we won the serve and pass game, which is key to winning any game,” said Tarawhiti.
Tarawhiti led UVU on the day, totaling 35 total kills between the two matches. Niutupuivaha and Senior Makaila Jarema also collected three blocks each against UCD.
Next on the Wolverines’ slate is the top-ranked team of the tournament and in-state foe University of Utah. UVU has already faced off against plenty of quality competition, and going against the Utes will be no different. UVU will take on Utah at 5 p.m. MST on Saturday, September 7 at Lockhart Arena.
“We’re going to have to take [Utah] out of their system,” said Atoa. “We got to serve tough. If we can do that and play in control, I think the team that does that is going to win tomorrow. I like our chances, especially after today with the way the [Wolverines] played.”
“We always look forward to playing good, competitive teams,” said Tarawhiti. “So just being able to play at that level and knowing that we can hang with top ranked teams is fun for sure.”
Photo by Cameron Hunsinger