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UVU volleyball: Wolverines clinch two seed with 3-2 victory over CSUB

Utah Valley outside hitter Lexi Thompson (right-center) raises for an attack against CSU Bakersfield on Saturday. Thompson helped lead the Wolverines to victory with a team-high 21 kills and a .425 attack percentage.
Utah Valley outside hitter Lexi Thompson (right-center) raises for an attack against CSU Bakersfield on Saturday. Thompson helped lead the Wolverines to victory with a team-high 21 kills and a .425 attack percentage.
Juan Flores Mena, UVU Athletics

Behind 21 kills from Lexi Thompson and a career-high 11 blocks from Brighton Taylor, Utah Valley University volleyball managed to pull out a five-set thriller over CSU Bakersfield, 3-2 (25-18, 25-17, 21-25, 20-25, 15-12), on Saturday afternoon to earn the two seed for next week's Western Athletic Conference Tournament and a first-round bye.

"This was awesome. We knew that it was going to be a brawl and it was great to see the girls take control of the game once again in the fifth set," head UVU coach Sam Atoa said. "I'm proud of them. There's a difference in the way that these guys are playing the game right now, and they are hard to beat."

With the victory, the Wolverines capped their regular season at 15-13 overall and in a tie for second place in the WAC standings with CSUB (13-14) with identical 10-4 conference records. UVU holds the tiebreaker, however, thanks to a pair of five-set wins over the Roadrunners on the season.

"This was a big win for us. Instead of three matches, we'll now have two," Atoa said. "Hopefully we'll be ready to take care of what we need to do both physically and mentally next week."

Utah Valley outhit CSUB, .315 to .207, on the day, as well as outblocked the 'Runners, 17.0 to 5.0.

Besides recording a team-high 21 kills, Thompson also posted a solid .425 attack percentage as well as four blocks and three digs. Taylor chipped in a pair of kills to go along with her career-high 11 blocks, while Madison Dennison added six blocks, 11 kills and a match-high .458 hitting percentage. Senior Kiahna Vernon too reached double figures in kills in her final home collegiate contest with 10, while fellow senior Nakisha Willden delivered a match-high 20 digs on the day.

In a tightly contested fifth set that saw seven ties, the Wolverines caught a break when the 'Runners were whistled for being out of rotation to give UVU a 9-7 lead. Following a 'Runner point, UVU answered back with a Thompson kill and a Dennison and Thompson block assist to take an 11-8 advantage. CSUB countered back by scoring four of the next five points to tie the score at 12-all, but UVU responded by scoring three-straight clutch points to take the decisive fifth set by a score of 15-12. Dennison paced the final Wolverine run with a kill and a block.

With the victory, the Wolverines will receive a bye into the semifinal round of next week's WAC Tournament and open play against either the third-seeded Roadrunners or the sixth-seeded Seattle U Redhawks on Friday, Nov. 18, at 5 p.m. The winner of that contest will then reach the title game of the tournament that will be contested on Saturday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m.

With the first set all squared up at 5-5 in the early stages, UVU reeled off a 5-1 run to take an 11-6 advantage. Taylor and Izzie Hinton led the spurt with a pair of blocks assists. Bakersfield later pulled to within three at 13-10, but Utah Valley responded with a 4-1 run to take an 18-12 lead. The Roadrunners cut the deficit to four late, but UVU again countered by scoring four of the final five points to take the set, 25-18. As a team, the Wolverines outhit the 'Runners, .419 to .159 in the game, and Thompson led the way individually with five kills and an impressive .714 hitting percentage.

With Bakersfield holding to a 9-7 lead in the second game, Utah Valley ran off seven-straight points to take a 14-9 advantage of its own. Thompson paced the Wolverine rally with three kills during the stretch. UVU later stretched its lead to seven, at 18-11, following a 3-0 run and again to as many as 10, at 24-14, after a late 5-0 spurt. The 'Runners didn't go away easily, however, as they answered with three-straight points, but UVU eventually put the set away at 25-17 on a Taylor kill.

CSUB answered back following the intermission break, as it jumped out to a quick 9-4 lead in the third game. UVU countered back with three-straight points to pull within two at 9-7, but back struck Bakersfield with five unanswered points of its own to take a 14-7 lead. The series of runs continued, as the Wolverines once again reeled off a 5-0 spurt to make it a two-point score at 14-12. Hinton and Thompson led the run with a pair of kills apiece. CSUB bounced back and later extended its lead to 20-15 following a 4-1 run, but back answered UVU with a 3-1 spurt to trail by just three at 21-18. Bakersfield managed to hold on to its lead from there, as it went on to take the set by a score of 25-21 and force a fourth game.

The 'Runners were once again the first to pull ahead in the fourth game, as they took a 12-9 lead following a block assist from Katie Dunbar-Lowe and Sydney Haynes. UVU struck right back with back-to-back kills from Dennison and Thompson to pull within one at 12-11. The set stayed tight from there until CSUB answered with two-straight points to take a 17-14 lead. The Roadrunners later stretched their lead to five at 20-15 and held on from there, as they went on to take the set by a score of 25-20 to force a decisive fifth game.

The contest marked UVU's 10th five-set match of the season and a school-record seventh five-set victory, as the Wolverines finish the regular season with a 7-3 record on the year in five-set thrillers.

Sierra Starley too played well for UVU on the day, as she added her eighth double-double of the season with a match-high 44 assists and 10 digs.

The 2016 WAC Championships will be held Nov. 17-19, at New Mexico State's Pan American Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The host Aggies enter the event as the regular season champions and the tournament's top seed.

James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.