Photo by Byron Howard
With the bar set high following a breakout 2016 season, the UVU Volleyball team will build upon last year’s success when it kicks off the 2017 season Tuesday, Aug. 22 with the annual Green & White scrimmage.
The Wolverines hope to improve upon last season’s second-place conference finish and appearance in the conference tournament championship match.
Following a slow start to last season, the Wolverines caught fire, winning 11 of their final 13 regular season matches and earning the second seed in the conference tournament. The strong finish to the 2016 campaign brought WAC Coach of the Year honors to head coach Sam Atoa as well as all-conference accolades for Madison Dennison (first team), Lexi Thompson (second team) and Izzie Hinton (all-freshman). The team hopes to pick up where it left off last season, although it may be difficult with a formidable nonconference schedule.
The 2017 slate serves up a challenge for the team as it features five matches against 2016 NCAA tournament teams and pits the Wolverines against three teams represented in the preseason top 25. After the annual intra-squad scrimmage, the Wolverines will head to California to kick off the regular season by participating in the SJSU/USF Invitational that weekend in San Jose and San Francisco. The preseason No. 8-ranked Kansas Jayhawks will make their way to Orem during the second week of the season for the annual Wolverine Invitational, while in-state opponents BYU and Utah, ranked No. 10 and No. 23 respectively, will also travel to Orem to face UVU in must-see nonconference matches.
The remainder of the nonconference schedule pits the Wolverines against Southern Utah, Idaho State, Utah State and Weber State. The team will also make the trip to Fort Worth, Texas to participate in the TCU Fight in the Fort Tournament where it will face off against Lehigh, Duke and the host school, TCU.
At first glance, the 2017 schedule appears daunting to say the least, but great challenges present great opportunities, and the Wolverines are hoping to take advantage of the great possibilities this schedule affords.
“Several of our top opponents will be at home, which will be great for our fans. We are getting better and better each year and this tough schedule will push us towards the standard that we expect for ourselves,” head coach Sam Atoa said in a statement to GoUVU.com. Coach Atoa will be entering his 19th season at the helm.
In addition to a difficult schedule, the coaching staff is faced with the challenge of filling the void left by the departure of last season’s seniors Kiahna Vernon, Nakisha Willden and Kelcee Munk. Willden and Vernon were first and second on the team in total sets played with Vernon finishing second on the team in total kills.
This year’s team features five seniors, as well as three returning all-conference performers from a year ago. Three of the seniors, Dennison, Thompson and Sierra Starley, were also named to the preseason All-WAC team. In the same preseason poll, UVU was voted to finish third in the conference.
However, with an abundance of experience and leadership, and with several of their more difficult matches at home, the Wolverines may indeed be poised to surpass the high mark they set last season.