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UVU volleyball: Utah Valley drops tightly-contested WAC match at NM State, 3-1

Utah Valley freshman outside hitter Kazna Tarawhiti (center) goes for an attack on Sept. 27, against California Baptist. On Thursday, Tarawhiti led UVU with a double-double of 24 kills and 15 digs in a tightly-contested setback at New Mexico State.
Utah Valley freshman outside hitter Kazna Tarawhiti (center) goes for an attack on Sept. 27, against California Baptist. On Thursday, Tarawhiti led UVU with a double-double of 24 kills and 15 digs in a tightly-contested setback at New Mexico State.
Jay Drowns, UVU Marketing

Despite a double-double of 24 kills and 15 digs from freshman Kazna Tarawhiti, Utah Valley University volleyball found itself on the wrong end of a 3-1 tightly-contested WAC volleyball match at preseason favorite New Mexico State on Thursday at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces (20-25, 27-25, 20-25, 24-26).

UVU falls to 11-10 overall and 3-5 in WAC play with the setback, while NM State moves to 16-5 overall and a half game back of first place in the league standings at 6-2. The loss marked Utah Valley's first defeat in its last four matches.

"It was a disappointment. We absolutely had our chances in that first set, as well as in others throughout the match," head UVU coach Sam Atoa said. "Despite committing a number of errors, we were very much in that fourth set. We unfortunately made one too many errors there at the end. Again, we had our chances and opportunities to take care of things ourselves but just couldn't."

With a match-high 24 kills as well as 15 digs, Tarawhiti notched her fifth double-double of the season. She also posted a solid .254 hitting percentage. Kristen Allred too added a double-double for the Wolverines with 14 kills and 12 digs, while freshman Kenzie Guimont led the way at the net with a season-high nine blocks. Three of Guimont's blocks were of the solo variety, as she tied a UVU single-match school record with her three solo blocks in the contest.

"I thought that Kazna played a good match tonight. Kenzie also came in and did some great things for us off of the bench. Unfortunately, we kind of struggled in some other positions," Atoa added. "We'll now look forward to getting to Edinburg and preparing ourselves for Saturday's match at UTRGV."

The Wolverines got off to a hot start in the opening set, as they built a quick 5-1 lead thanks to early kills from Jasmine Niutupuivaha and Tarawhiti. The Aggies later responded to take an 11-10 advantage following a 4-0 spurt, but back answered UVU with an 8-1 run to take an 18-12 lead. Allred and Madi Wardle delivered aces during the stretch for the Wolverines. NM State wouldn't go away, however, as it countered back with 12 of the next 13 points to take a late 24-19 set-point advantage. UVU then got a point back on a block assist from Guimont and Tarawhiti, but NMSU put the set away at 25-20 on a kill from Savannah Davison.

With NM State holding a 13-11 second-set advantage, the Wolverines responded with a trio of consecutive points to take a 14-13 lead. Utah Valley later took a 19-17 advantage following back-to-back service aces from the freshman Abbie Vincent. The Aggies immediately answered back to tie things up at 20-20 as the set stayed tight down the stretch. After a pair of Allred kills gave UVU a 24-23 set-point advantage, NMSU answered back with two of the next three to tie things up at 25-all. The Wolverines again responded with consecutive clutch kills from Tarawhiti and freshman Kaili Downs to take the tightly-contested set, 27-25, and tie the match at 1-1. Tarawhiti led UVU with nine second-set kills.

The Wolverines continued to hold the upper hand following the intermission break by building a quick 7-1 lead in the third game. New Mexico State then got things going with a 6-0 spurt of its own to tie things up at 7-7. Tied at 11-all following a block assist from Guimont and Allred, NM State drove home four-straight points to take a 15-11 lead. UVU then pulled within a point at 15-14 after a pair of kills from Allred, but the Aggies responded with another 4-0 run to take a 19-14 advantage. The Wolverines pulled to within three at 20-17 following an Allred ace, but that was as close as UVU got as NMSU went on to take the third game by a score of 25-20.

In a must-win fourth set, Utah Valley built a 13-11 advantage following back-to-back block assists from Guimont and Alexis Davies. The Aggies then struck back with three-straight points thanks to a pair of consecutive kills from Davison to take a 14-13 lead. Trailing 15-14, UVU then pieced together a 4-0 spurt to take an 18-15 advantage via a Tarawhiti kill along with a Downs and Guimont block. But again NM State bounced back with four unanswered points of its own to take a 19-18 lead. With the Aggies holding a late 23-21 advantage, UVU then managed to string together a trio of straight points to take a 24-23 set-point lead thanks to a pair of Tarawhiti kills and a Vincent ace. But again New Mexico State countered with back-to-back-to-back points to take the set, 26-24, and the match in four sets.

Despite dropping the contest, Wardle played well for UVU by adding a team-high 29 assists. Seren Merrill led the way from the back row on the night with a team-best 18 digs, while Vincent finished with a season-high three service aces.

Four players finished in double figures in kills for the Aggies led by two-time first-team all-conference performer Tatyana Battle's 18 kills and a match-high 21 digs.

The Wolverines will now head down to Edinburg, Texas, to face the third-place UT Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros on Saturday, Oct. 20. Saturday's WAC showdown will begin at 11 a.m. MT, and will be streamed live on the WAC Digital Network. UVU topped the Vaqueros a week ago in Orem in four sets.