Volleyball: UVU comeback falls short in out-of-conference finale

Photo by Jesse Sanchez

OREM, Utah—In its final tune-up game before entering conference play, the Utah Valley University volleyball team hosted the Cal State Northridge Matadors. After getting in an early hole at two sets to none, the Wolverines fell to the Matadors after a decisive fifth set (25-21, 25-21, 22-25, 19-25, 17-15). UVU has now dropped three games in a row and five of its last six.

“I was proud of our girls for being able to turn things around there. We were playing with very lackluster energy in the first two sets. We just needed to get these kids going,” said UVU head coach Sam Atoa.

After losing the first set 25-21, the Wolverines (4-9) jumped out to a quick 12-3 lead in the second set. The lead was short lived, however, as the Matadors strung together a run of eight straight points, capped by an attack error by Kiahna Vernon, to tie the set at 12.

CSUN (4-9) took a 16-15 lead in the set off an attack error by Alexis Davies, then claimed the set 25-21.

UVU came out of the break with new energy in the third set and again tallied the first point on a kill by Lexi Thompson. The Wolverines took a 10-4 lead on an ace by Sierra Starley, one of four on the night, and led the rest of the way as they claimed the set 25-22.

With the fourth set tied at 17, Thompson sparked a UVU run with a kill for an 18-17 lead. The Wolverines went on an 8-2 run to close out the set with an attack error by Nada Dragovic.

Madison Dennison gave UVU a chance to take the game in the fifth set with a kill to put the score at 14-13. However, after the Matadors tied the match at 15, a kill by Julie Haake and an attack error by Vernon closed the door on the Wolverines’ comeback.

Although the rally fell short, UVU recorded a season-high 20 blocks in the game. Vernon and Dennison led the Wolverines with 14 and 12 kills, respectively.

With the out-of-conference schedule complete, UVU looks forward to a fresh start in conference play. Despite the slow start to the 2016 season, UVU’s record is somewhat warranted with the tough slate it has drawn up prior to opening conference play. The Wolverines have faced three top-25 opponents this season, which has happened only two other times in their brief Division I history. The 2009 season also saw three ranked opponents, while the 2014 slate presented four.

“I’ve felt like we’ve played very well against some of these tough teams, especially what we did in Hawaii, and that was on the road,” said Atoa. “That’s something that we’re going to talk about and feel like we can build on it. If can compete against Hawaii and Washington on the road, in hostile territory, we should be able to take and learn from that, and then be able to compete against these too.”

With strong opponents in the out-of-conference schedule, UVU appears well prepared to open conference play Thursday against the Texas Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros. The Wolverines will face off against the Vaqueros at 6 p.m. MT in Edinburg, Texas.

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