The Utah Valley University volleyball team heads to Northern California to open its 2017 campaign this weekend at the SJSU/USF Invitational. The Wolverines first face a pair of California foes on Friday at San José State's Spartan Gym in Pepperdine and Fresno State, before closing the opening tournament on Saturday against Nevada at San Francisco's War Memorial Gym.
UVU opens its 2017 season with a pair of back-to-back matches on Friday, as it faces Pepperdine at 3 p.m. MT, and then immediately takes on Fresno State at 5:30 p.m. The contest against the Waves will mark the second time in the past three seasons that UVU will face off against Pepperdine in its opening-season tournament. The Wolverines then conclude the SJSU/USF Invite when they head north to San Francisco on Saturday to take on the Nevada Wolf Pack at 3 p.m.
"We're anxious and excited to get to California and continue to improve," said 19th-year head UVU coach Sam Atoa. "We are playing some very tough teams in Pepperdine, Fresno and Nevada. We definitely have a lot of work to do, but we're excited for the opportunity and being able to see what this year will bring."
The Wolverines enter the 2017 season after going 16-14 overall a year ago and tying for second place in the Western Athletic Conference standings with a 10-4 league record. The second-place finish in conference play marked UVU's best since joining the WAC prior to the 2013 season. Utah Valley also posted its best finish in WAC Tournament play by making the championship match a season ago and finishing as the tournament's runner-up.
UVU welcomes back five returning starters from last year's squad and 10 letterwinners in all. A trio of returning starters recently earned Preseason All-WAC honors in seniors Madison Dennison (MB), Sierra Starley (S) and Lexi Thompson (OH) after receiving conference accolades last season. Dennison was named first team All-WAC a year ago, while Thompson was named to the conference's second team and Starley received WAC All-Tournament Team honors.
The trio of returning Preseason All-WAC selections join fellow returning starters Brighton Taylor (Sr., MB) and Izzie Hinton (So., RS), as well as fellow returning letterwinners Alexis Davies (Jr., OH),Marija Martinovic (Sr., OH/DS), Jasmine Niutupuivaha (So., MB),Lindsey Tagge (Jr., DS/L) and Madi Wardle (So., S).
The Wolverines also welcome five newcomers to the fold this season in sophomore transfer Megan Boudreaux (University of Utah, MB) and local freshmen Kristen Allred (Maple Mountain HS, OH), Seren Merrill (Orem HS, DS/L), Makayla Pollard(Lone Peak HS, MB) and Brynnly Ward (Mountain View HS, DS/L). UVU also welcomes back redshirt freshman Bailey Nixon (OH), who sat out the 2016 campaign with an injury.
The Waves went 13-17 overall a season ago and tied for seventh in the West Coast Conference standings with a 7-11 league record.
The Waves return 2016 First Team All-WCC performer Jasmine Gross, who led the team in blocks with a total of 154 and an average of 1.34 per set, as well as their top offensive threat in Hannah Frohling that recorded a total of 291 kills and an average of 2.49 per set in 2016.
Friday's opener will mark just the second all-time meeting between UVU and Pepperdine but the second meeting at an opening-season tournament in the past three seasons. The Waves got the best of the Wolverines in the lone previous meeting, besting UVU in straight sets at the Pepperdine Asics Classic on August 28, 2015.
About Fresno State
The Bulldogs finished 2016 with a 15-14 overall record and tied for eighth in the Mountain West standings with a 6-12 league ledger. Fresno State was picked to finish 10th in the Mountain West this season.
Brielle Hefner is Fresno's top returning offensive threat after recording 173 kills for an average of 1.99 per set, while Haile Watson will once again look to lead the way at the net after tallying 98 total blocks for an average of 0.92 per set.
Friday's meeting will mark the third all-time meeting between UVU and Fresno State. The Wolverines hold an unblemished 2-0 advantage over the Bulldogs after defeating Fresno State, 3-1, in Orem on September 4, 2010 and 3-2, on September 8, 2012 in Fresno.
The Wolf Pack posted a 19-11 overall record a year ago and took fifth in the Mountain West Conference standings with a 10-8 MW record. Nevada was again picked to finish fifth in the Mountain West this season.
Madison Foley is Nevada's top returning hitter that recorded 313 kills a season ago and a 2.79 per set average, while Shayla Hoeft led the way at the net for the Wolf Pack in 2016 with 116 total blocks and a 1.04 per set average.
Saturday's contest between the Wolverines and Wolf Pack will mark the fifth all-time meeting between the foes. Nevada enters play with a perfect 4-0 series record after pulling out 3-1 wins on October 7, 2004 in Reno; November 10, 2007 in Orem; August 27, 2010 in Columbia, Missouri; and September 14, 2012 in Salt Lake City.
Up next for UVU
Following this weekend's tournament, UVU will face off against in-state foe Southern Utah on Tuesday, Aug. 29, at 6 p.m., in Cedar City. Utah Valley will then return home to host the Wolverine Invitational that weekend (Aug. 31-Sept. 2) when No. 8 Kansas, Montana and Long Beach State come to town. UVU will face the ranked Jayhawks on Thursday, Aug. 31, at 7 p.m.; Montana on Friday, Sept. 1, at 5 p.m.; and Long Beach State on Saturday, Sept. 2, at noon.
UVU all-time in season openers
Utah Valley enters Friday with a 2-12 record in season-opening matches at the NCAA Division I level. UVU's last opening-season victory came on August 26, 2011, when it defeated Illinois State in five sets at home. UVU's other opening day win came on Auguat 28, 2009, when it beat Gonzaga, 3-1, at Weber State's tournament in Ogden. A season ago, the Wolverines fell in straight sets to No. 13 BYU in Provo.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.