Head Utah Valley University women's volleyball coach Sam Atoa recorded his 400th career victory in a 3-0 sweep over Grand Canyon University in WAC volleyball action on Saturday afternoon at GCU Arena in Phoenix (25-13, 25-22, 25-19).
In 20 seasons as UVU's head coach, Atoa now has compiled a 400-230 career record and a solid .635 winning percentage. He also holds a 262-199 record in 16 seasons at the NCAA Division I level (.568) and a 138-31 mark during his four seasons of coaching during UVU's NJCAA era (.817). Atoa is also Utah Valley's winningest active coach of any sport, as well as the school's winningest coach at the NCAA Division I level.
"It is humbling for sure. I am grateful for a university that has allowed me to be able to coach as long as I have and for all of the athletes and coaches that have been a part of this program. They have all done a great job of being able to buy into our culture, as well as buy into what we were trying to do for these last 20 years," Atoa said. "I'm just thrilled and honored to have been associated with this university administration that believes in what we are doing and being able to contribute to the success both academically and athletically here at UVU.
"I am also grateful for my family and for the support that they have given me over the years. I'm especially thankful for my wife and for the support and love that she has shown me no matter if we have won or lost. I'm very appreciative of her and for her continuous support."
The win marks UVU's second-consecutive victory, as it improves to 10-9 on the season and 2-4 in WAC play. GCU drops to 7-10 overall and 0-5 in WAC play with the loss. As a team, UVU dominated GCU at the net in the match with 16.0 total team blocks compared to just 2.0 from the Antelopes.
Kazna Tarawhiti led the Wolverines in the contest with a match-high 11 kills and seven blocks. Jasmine Niutupuivaha was next with eight kills and a match-high eight blocks, while Makaila Jarema too tallied eight kills and chipped in six blocks. Alexis Davies too played well for Utah Valley at the net by adding six blocks, while Madi Wardle added a double-double with 17 assists and 12 digs.
"I was pleased with the effort right from the beginning. We disrupted their offense very quickly in the match, and it in turn created opportunities for us offensively," Atoa added. "It was a great team effort. I was especially proud of our middles. This was a great match for them to be able to execute our game plan and have a good showing."
The Wolverines were the first to get things going in the opening set, as they built a quick 9-4 advantage following a 5-0 run. With UVU later holding a 15-9 lead after a Makaila Jarema kill, GCU drove home a trio of consecutive points to make it 15-12. At 16-13, the Wolverines then countered right back with nine unanswered points to take the set by a score of 25-13. Jasmine Niutupuivaha had a pair of blocks and kills to lead the way for UVU down the stretch. As a team, Utah Valley posted a .345 hitting percentage in the frame to GCU's .029.
Utah Valley again pulled ahead early in the second set, as it jumped out to an 11-6 lead after a 5-0 run. Niutupuivaha had a trio of blocks for UVU during the spurt, while Tarawhiti added a pair of her own. The Antelopes then struck right back with five unanswered points of their own to tie the score at 11-11. Utah Valley later pulled ahead at 18-16 after an Allred kill and consecutive block assists from Jarema and Tarawhiti, as well as Jarema and Kaili Downs, but back answered GCU with three-straight points to take a 19-18 lead. Later deadlocked at 22-22, the Wolverines then got a trio of consecutive clutch points to take the set, 25-22. Tarawhiti and Niutupuivaha each drove home kills for UVU down the stretch.
In a tightly contested third game, Utah Valley managed to take a 14-11 advantage following four-consecutive points. Jarema and Tarawhiti both drove home kills for the Wolverines during the run, while Tarawhiti and Niutupuivaha each added blocks. Up 17-13, the Lopes then scored back-to-back points to pull within two at 17-15. With UVU later holding a 19-17 advantage, the Wolverines then managed to score five of the next six points to take a 24-18 lead. Allred, Jarema, Niutupuivaha and Tarawhiti all recorded kills for UVU during the decisive late stretch. After a GCU point, the Wolverines put the set and match away on a Grand Canyon service error.
With the sweep, the contest marked the close of UVU's consecutive five-set thrillers to five. Before Saturday's three-set win, the Wolverines also had played a stretch of nine of their last 10 matches in the full five sets.
With the victory, Utah Valley improves its series record to a perfect 11-0 all-time against GCU.
Utah Valley will now return home for one of two home matches during the month of October when it welcomes fellow WAC foe UT Rio Grande Valley to town on Thursday, Oct. 11, for a 6 p.m. contest at Lockhart Arena. Following the match, the Wolverines will be off until the following week when they will head to Las Cruces and Edinburg for road matches at New Mexico State (Oct. 18) and UTRGV (Oct. 20).