OREM — Sam Atoa is like the person who lives in the same place long enough to see his surroundings transform over time from sleepy suburb to bustling city.
Entering his seventh season as Utah Valley State's women's volleyball coach, Atoa has overseen the transformation of his volleyball program from junior college-level to the Division I ranks. This season is the Wolverines' third in Division I.
"We're a young team," Atoa said. "We don't have as much experience as we have had in the past. With who we have right now, though, we feel very encouraged.
"The only way to get experience is to get on the court and play. Hopefully, we'll gain that experience quickly."
Atoa will rely heavily on junior setter Lacee Koelliker and middle blockers Jessica Endres and Stephanie McFarland as UVSC seeks to improve on last year's 11-16 record.
"Having a setter come back for her junior year with two years of experience under her belt excites me," Atoa said of Koelliker. "Knowing that your quarterback can carry the load and dish the ball out anywhere is comforting."
As the Wolverines transitioned from juco to D-I, the geographic makeup of the roster underwent an extreme makeover. Whereas years past saw UVSC with a very Utah-centric roster, out-of-state players now outnumber native Utahns 9-4.
"Two years ago, most of the recruits were from Utah," Atoa said. "But now we get so much attention from out-of-state kids, from places like Texas, California and Idaho."
Despite the program's growth, the Wolverines' independent status still affects recruiting, Atoa said.
"As we experience changes with our academic status," Atoa said, "sometimes people have misconceptions or misinformation about where we're going. (Recruits) are always hearing, 'don't go there — they'll never get into a conference.'
"Hopefully, something really good happens, and we get into a conference soon."
A 32-game schedule is on the books for this year, including a home-and-home with Weber State, a Sept. 20 home match with the University of Utah, and an October visit to BYU. UVSC hosts the four-team Utah Valley State Invitational later this month.
The Wolverines kick their season off tonight, hosting Kansas at 7 p.m.
WOMEN'S SOCCER: The Wolverines couldn't find the back of the net Friday in their 1-0 loss to Weber State. The women's next game is against another in-state rival — the University of Utah — Saturday in Salt Lake City.
WOMEN'S GOLF: UVSC is still looking for athletes to fill out the roster in Wolverines' first-ever foray into Division I women's golf. The team's Web site reports "scholarship money is available, and an advanced golf skill level is not required." Coach Denise Larson signed three golfers this week to form the core of this year's team. "We're hoping," Larson said, "to be able to get a couple more local girls who are already at UVSC."
MEN'S BASKETBALL: The Wolverines announced last week that they will join Texas, West Virginia, Iowa and Kentucky in the 16-team Guardians Classic field. The tourney begins Nov. 13.
ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT: UVSC athletic director Mike Jacobsen restructured the athletic department administration last week, promoting DJ Smith to senior associate AD and Megan Kennedy to associate AD. Chris Brown and Brad Mertz will serve as assistant ADs.
Utah Valley connections
Stephanie McFarland, junior, middle blocker — two-time all-region and all-state selection at Lone Peak who helped the Vikings to the 4A state title her senior year.
Larissa Laycock, sophomore, right side — two-time all-region and all-state selection in both volleyball and basketball at Lone Peak.