The Utah Valley University volleyball team found itself on the wrong end of a pair of 3-1 contests to Pepperdine and Fresno State on Friday's opening day of the 2017 season at the SJSU/USF Invitational at San José State's Spartan Gym.
The Wolverines (0-2) dropped the first match to the Waves (1-0) by scores of 19-25, 25-23, 20-25, 27-29, before concluding the afternoon with a 16-25, 17-25, 26-24, 22-25 setback to the Bulldogs (1-0).
"It takes twice as much energy to try to claw your way back when you are playing from behind. I think a lot of times when those things happen you kind of wear out, but I was very proud of the girls for the way that they continued to bounce back and perform in some tough conditions in back-to-back matches here today," said UVU head coach Sam Atoa. "With basically only 30 minutes between matches, the girls did a great job of scrapping and continuing to play hard in that second match against Fresno State. I'm very proud of their resilience and their efforts. You never like going 0-2, but we're going to work on some things and be better tomorrow."
Match one vs. Pepperdine
In the opening set, the West Coast Conference Waves were the first to make a move as they jumped out to a quick 7-2 advantage. The Wolverines then countered back with a 9-4 run to tie the set at 11-11. With the set later still deadlocked at 16-all, The Waves managed to piece together an 8-1 run to take a 24-17 lead. Following a kill from junior Alexis Davies, Pepperdine then put the opening set away via a Wolverine service miscue.
Pepperdine once again jumped out to an early lead in the second set, as it reeled off four-straight points to take a 4-0 lead. The Waves later managed to extend their advantage to 15-7 following a 6-2 spurt. With Pepperdine holding to a 17-9 lead, UVU got things going after capitalizing on a Wave service error and a trio of consecutive kills from senior Lexi Thompson to cut the deficit in half at 17-13. With Pepperdine up 21-15 late, the Wolverines managed to reel off a clutch 9-1 run to take a 24-22 set-point advantage. Freshman Kristen Allred led the rally for Utah Valley with three kills. The Wolverines then managed to take the set, 25-23, and even the match at 1-1 following back-to-back service errors. The Preseason All-WAC selection Thompson paced UVU in the frame with six kills and a .455 hitting percentage.
Following intermission, UVU built a 7-5 third-set lead after a solo block from sophomore Izzie Hinton. But the Waves bounced back with six unanswered points to take an 11-7 lead of their own. Pepperdine's Hannah Frohling led the way with back-to-back-to-back kills. With Utah Valley later trailing by three at 13-10, the Waves pieced together a 7-0 run to extend their lead to 20-10. The Wolverines then made things interesting by scoring nine of the next 11 points to make it a 22-19 score, but Pepperdine put the set away, at 25-20, and had a 2-1 lead in the match by scoring three of the final four points of the frame.
The Waves' momentum carried over into the fourth set, as they took an early 12-5 lead following a 7-1 run. With Pepperdine later holding to a 17-9 lead, UVU scored five of the next six points to pull within five at 18-13. The Wolverines later cut the deficit to three at 20-17 after a 4-1 run that was capped off by an ace from senior Sierra Starley. With the Waves later holding a 23-19 lead, UVU reeled off a trio of consecutive clutch points to trail by just one at 23-22. The freshman Allred led the run with a pair of solo blocks and a kill. After a kill from Pepperdine's Jasmine Gross gave the Waves a 24-22 set-point advantage, the Wolverines once again answered back with back-to-back points on a kill and a block from senior Madison Dennison to tie the set at 24-all. The contest then seesawed back and forth from there until Pepperdine scored back-to-back points in extra time to take the marathon fourth and final set, 29-27.
Despite suffering the setback, Thompson and Dennison topped double figures in kills for the Wolverines with 12 and 11, respectively. Dennison also added a team-high six blocks, while Starley notched her first double-double of the season with 31 assists and 11 digs. True freshman Seren Merrill led the way from the back row with 21 digs.
Match two vs. Fresno State
The Bulldogs of the Mountain West Conference struck first in the opening set of UVU's second match of the day by jumping out to a 9-4 advantage. The Wolverines managed to chip away at the deficit and pull within three, 15-12, but UVU couldn't get any closer as it went on to drop the opening frame by a score of 25-16.
With Fresno State holding onto a slight 4-3 advantage early, the Bulldogs drove home six of the next seven points to take a 10-4 lead. Utah Valley quickly pulled to within four on a couple of occasions, but Fresno State held on to its advantage as it extended its lead to 21-13. The Wolverines countered back with a trio of consecutive points thanks to kills from Dennison and Allred to pull within five at 21-16, but it wasn't enough as the Bulldogs went on to take the set, 25-17.
In a very tightly contested third set that saw 14 ties and four lead changes, the Wolverines held the upper hand early on by jumping out to an 8-5 lead following a Thompson kill. Fresno State answered back with a 6-2 run of its own to take an 11-10 advantage. No team led by more than two points the rest of the frame, as the set went down to the wire. Trailing 22-21, UVU recorded back-to-back key points thanks to a Thompson kill and a Starley ace to take a 23-22 advantage. With the set later tied at 24-all, the Wolverines hammered home a pair of consecutive points once again to take the set, 26-24, and force a fourth game. Freshmen Allred and Merrill had the key clutch points for UVU at the end thanks to a respective kill and an ace.
The Bulldogs bounced back by taking an early 6-4 lead in set number four before a 3-1 Wolverine run deadlocked the action at 7-7. With Fresno later leading by just one at 10-9, the Bulldogs drove home three-straight points to extend their advantage to 13-9. Down 18-15, UVU put together a much-needed 4-1 spurt to tie the set at 19-19. Allred led the Wolverine rally with a pair of kills. The set then seesawed back and forth until Fresno State broke a 22-22 tie with three-consecutive points to take the set, 25-22, and the match three sets to one.
A trio of players finished in double figures in kills for the Wolverines, led by Allred's team-high 13. Thompson and Dennison put up 10 kills apiece, while Dennison added a match-high seven blocks and Starley chipped in team-best tallies of 35 assists and eight digs.
Up next for Utah Valley
The Wolverines close their opening-season tournament by taking on Nevada on Saturday at 2 p.m. PT, at San Francisco's War Memorial Gym. Following the contest, UVU will head to Cedar City on Tuesday, Aug. 29, for an in-state matchup against Southern Utah. Utah Valley will then return home to welcome No. 8 Kansas for its 2017 home opener on Thursday, Aug. 31, at 7 p.m.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.