Photo by Byron Harward
LAS CRUCES, N.M.–The No. 2-seeded Utah Valley University volleyball team was unable to keep pace as it fell in three sets (23-25, 21-25, 23-25) to No. 5-seeded UT Rio Grande Valley in the Western Athletic Conference title match. UTRGV came in hot after a shocking upset of regular season champion New Mexico State in the semifinals.
UTRGV got off to a quick start in the first set, building a five-point lead at 10-5. UVU was able to respond as it chipped away at the deficit and eventually tied the score when a Sierra Starley kill made it 12-12. The teams traded points the rest of the way. The last tie came after a kill by Madison Dennison made the score 21-21, then UVU gave way to the Vaqueros.
Early on, the second set was as tightly contested as the first, as the teams battled their way to eight ties. With the teams deadlocked at 10-10, Izzie Hinton recorded a kill that gave the Wolverines a one-point lead. Utah Valley would not lead again, however, as the Vaqueros found a second gear, building a seven-point lead before eventually winning the set.
Looking to avoid a sweep, the Wolverines came out firing in the third set, as they scored four of the first five points. The Vaqueros were able to tie the score at 9-9 before UVU retook the lead on another kill by Hinton. Once again, however, UTRGV turned up the intensity as it pulled away and won the set and the match.
Lexi Thompson paced the Wolverines with 11 kills and Sierra Starley contributed with 33 assists. On the other side, Ragni Steen Knudsen led the charge for UTRGV with a match-high 15 kills.
With the win, UTRGV earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. UVU’s season comes to an end with an overall record of 16-14, including 10-4 in conference.