Photo by Byron Harward
LAS CRUCES, N.M.–After earning a first-round bye in the Western Athletic Conference tournament, the Utah Valley University volleyball team ousted Cal State Bakersfield in a five-set thriller (22-25, 25-22, 25-17, 20-25, 15-12) to earn a spot in Saturday’s title match. The No. 2-seeded Wolverines will meet No. 5-seeded UT Rio Grande Valley.
“I don’t know what it is about these five sets. You’ve got to give credit to Bakersfield, but I’m really, really proud of our girls. They did a tremendous job of composing themselves, executing the plan and being disciplined there at the end,” said head coach Sam Atoa in a statement to WolverineGreen.
The opening set was littered with errors from both sides, but was a back and forth fight. After trading blows, the Wolverines found themselves leading 22-21 ready to come away with a tight victory. However, the Roadrunners responded with kills from Carol Grasso and Sydney Haynes alongside an attack error by the Wolverines to close out the set victorious.
The Roadrunners started strong in the second set by jumping out to an 8-3 lead. The early run was once again highlighted by kills from Grasso and costly errors committed by the Wolverines. Utah Valley head coach Sam Atoa, who was named WAC Coach of the Year, called an early timeout and the Wolverines started to catch their stride. After falling behind early, the Wolverines tied the game at 19 by way of an attack error from the Roadrunners. Izzie Hinton, who was recently named to the conference’s All-Freshman team, recorded two kills down the stretch to help UVU win the second set.
The Wolverines carried their momentum into the third set and mounted a commanding 16-8 lead following an aggressive kill from first team All-WAC performer Madison Dennison. The Roadrunners were never able to recover and a kill by Brighton Taylor gave the third set to the Wolverines.
The fourth set belonged once again to the Roadrunners early on, as they were the ones leading 16-8. However, this time the Wolverines were able to recover and a kill by Dennison pulled UVU within three at 20-17. That was as close as they got down the stretch, as the Roadrunners forced a win-or-go-home final set.
In the final set the Wolverines proved they were worthy of their seed, going on a 5-0 run to make it 13-7 after the Roadrunners had pulled within one. A final kill by Lexi Thompson clinched the victory and the Wolverines spot in their first-ever WAC title game.
Saturday’s title match is slated for 7 p.m. MT and streamed live on the WAC Digital Network.