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UVU volleyball: Utah Valley welcomes No. 9 Kansas, Montana and LBSU to town

Utah Valley sophomore right side Izzie Hinton attacks a ball during a 2016 promo shoot. The Wolverines play host to No. 9 Kansas, Montana and Long Beach State as part of the Wolverine Invitational this weekend.
Utah Valley sophomore right side Izzie Hinton attacks a ball during a 2016 promo shoot. The Wolverines play host to No. 9 Kansas, Montana and Long Beach State as part of the Wolverine Invitational this weekend.
FloVolleyball

Fresh off a 3-0 sweep over in-state foe Southern Utah on Tuesday in Cedar City, the Utah Valley University volleyball team returns home to host the 2017 Wolverine Invitational at Lockhart Arena from Thursday to Saturday, Aug. 31-Sept. 2. UVU opens the three-day tournament playing No. 9 Kansas on Thursday at 7 p.m., before taking on Montana on Friday at 5 p.m. and closing the weekend against Long Beach State on Saturday at noon.

A trio of other neutral contests will also take place on the weekend, as the tournament officially begins on Thursday at 5 p.m., with Montana versus Long Beach State. Friday's neutral matchup will feature the ninth-ranked Jayhawks against the LBSU 49ers at 2 p.m., while Saturday's will mark the Big 12 Jayhawks against the Big Sky Grizzlies at 9:30 a.m.

All six matches of the Wolverine Invitational will be streamed live on FloVolleyball.tv (subscription required). UVU's three contests will also be simulcast on the WAC Digital Network, while live stats will be available online for all six matches by visiting UVU Stats via StatBroadcast.

"It's always good to get a win, especially with a long week of volleyball ahead of us. We hope that Tuesday's momentum will help us be prepared for this weekend," head UVU coach Sam Atoa said. "We're excited to get home and play in front of our crowd, and we're looking forward to the weekend."

Last time out

The Wolverines enter the home tournament with a 1-3 record after opening the season with a trio of four-set setbacks to Pepperdine, Fresno State and Nevada last weekend at the SJSU/USF Invitational, before bouncing back with a 3-0 sweep over SUU in Cedar City on Tuesday.

UVU got off to a strong start in all three sets against Southern Utah, as it opened a trio of fairly sizable leads in each game. SUU then managed to come back and even the score late in the third and final set, but Utah Valley freshman Kristen Allred helped the Wolverines pull out the sweep by driving home three clutch kills down the stretch en route to leading UVU to a 25-22 final-set victory.

Senior Lexi Thompson led the way for UVU in Tuesday's straight-set win over SUU with a match-high 11 kills, while Allred and senior Madison Dennison added nine kills apiece. Allred also finished just one kill shy of notching her first collegiate double-double by adding 11 digs, while Dennison chipped in five blocks. Sophomore Jasmine Niutupuivaha led the way for UVU at the net by tying a career high with six blocks, while senior Sierra Starley posted a match-high 36 assists.

Thompson paces the Wolverine attack on the year with 45 kills and a 3.00 kills per set average. Dennison is next with 41 kills and a 2.73 per set average, while Allred checks in with 32 kills and a 2.29 per set clip. Reigning first-team All-WAC honoree Dennison fronts UVU and the WAC at the net with 24 blocks and a 1.60 per set average, while fellow preseason All-WAC selection Starley leads the way in assists with 137 and a 9.13 per set clip.

Highest ranked team to ever visit Orem

The No. 9 ranking of the Kansas Jayhawks matches the highest ranked team that the Utah Valley volleyball program has ever hosted at the NCAA Division I level at Lockhart Arena in Orem. The ninth-ranked Jayhawks matches the No. 9 BYU Cougars, who the Wolverines hosted on September 19, 2015. Utah Valley holds a 1-8 all-time record against nationally-ranked opponents in Orem, which includes a 3-1 upset victory over the No. 17 Utah Utes on September 4, 2009.

About No. 9 Kansas

The ninth-ranked Jayhawks come to Orem with an unblemished 3-0 record in 2017 after pulling out a pair of four-set wins over the host NC State Wolfpack and Missouri State, as well as another five-set win over NC State to close the Wolfpack Invitational. Kansas won its first Big 12 Conference title last year after going an impressive 27-3 overall and 15-1 in league play. KU then advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth-straight season before having its 2016 NCAA run come to a close with a 3-2 setback to No. 21 Creighton. The Jawhawks were picked to finish second in the Big 12 preseason poll in 2017, finishing just three points behind 2016 national semifinalist Texas.

Preseason Big 12 Conference Player of the Year Kelsie Payne leads the Jayhawks with 59 kills, a 4.54 kills per set average and an impressive .343 hitting percentage, while fellow preseason All-Big 12 selection Madison Rigdon is right behind her with 51 kills and a 3.92 per set average. All-American setter Ainise Havili is the current Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week after tallying an impressive 160 assists, a 12.31 assists per set average and 54 digs at the Wolfpack Invitational.

Thursday's home opener between UVU and KU will mark the fourth all-time meeting between the Wolverines and Jayhawks and the second time that KU has visited Orem. Kansas holds a 3-0 all-time record after defeating UVU in Orem in four sets in 2005, as well as in straight sets in Lawrence in 2008 and 2014.

About Montana

The Grizzlies are off to a 2-1 record on the young season after winning a pair of matches at the North Texas Invitational in Denton, Texas, last week. Montana defeated UTEP, 3-1, and Tulsa, 3-2, before closing the tournament with a 3-0 setback to the host Mean Green. UM went just 5-21 overall a season ago and 2-14 in Big Sky Conference play. The Grizzlies were recently picked to finish 11th in the Big Sky this season after tying for 11th a year ago.

Mykaela Hammer paces the Montana offense with 39 kills and a 3.25 per set average. She is also the top blocker for the Grizzlies with 15 blocks and a 1.25 per set average, while Ashley Watkins leads the way in assists with 110 and a 9.17 per set average.

Friday's matchup between the Wolverines and Grizzlies will mark just the second all-time meeting between the two foes. UVU enters play holding a 1-0 series lead after defeating UM, 3-0, in Missoula on September 7, 2004.

About Long Beach State

The 49ers come to town with a 1-2 record after defeating Wright State but falling to No. 2 Stanford and Iowa last week at the LBSU Baden Challenge in Long Beach. Long Beach State first dropped a 3-0 contest to the now No. 1-ranked Cardinal, before defeating Wright State in straight sets and capping the tournament with a 3-1 setback to the Iowa Hawkeyes. LBSU went 21-10 a season ago and took second in the Big West with a 13-3 conference record. The 49ers were picked to finish third in the Big West this season, behind Hawaii and Cal Poly.

Megan Kruidhof fronts the 49er offense with 33 kills and a 3.30 per set average. Kjersti Norveel leads the way at the net with 10 blocks and a 1.00 per set clip, while Alexis Patterson is pacing the team in assists with 80 and an 8.00 per set average.

Saturday's tournament finale will mark the first all-time meeting between UVU and LBSU in the sport of volleyball.

Up next for Utah Valley

Following the Wolverine Invitational, UVU will continue its busy stretch with back-to-back road matches at Idaho State and Utah State on Sept. 4 and Sept. 5. The Wolverines will first take on ISU in Pocatello on Monday at 6 p.m., before concluding the trip with a 7 p.m. matchup against USU on Tuesday in Logan.

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