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UVU volleyball: Wolverines drop tightly contested exhibition to No. 8 BYU

Utah Valley's Alexis Davies (front), Kristen Allred (left-center) and Jasmine Niutupuivaha (center) await an attack attempt from BYU's Madi Robinson (right-center) during Saturday afternoon's exhibition contest at BYU's Smith Fieldhouse.
Utah Valley's Alexis Davies (front), Kristen Allred (left-center) and Jasmine Niutupuivaha (center) await an attack attempt from BYU's Madi Robinson (right-center) during Saturday afternoon's exhibition contest at BYU's Smith Fieldhouse.
Clark Wiesenberg, UVU Athletics

The Utah Valley University volleyball team dropped a tightly contested exhibition contest to No. 8 BYU in three sets on Saturday afternoon as part of the UCCU Crosstown Clash at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo (27-25, 25-22, 25-20).

The new-look Wolverines, who return only one senior and have nine newcomers on their 2018 roster, held their own against the four-time defending West Coast Conference Cougars, as they took BYU right down to the wire in the first two sets.

"This was a very competitive match. I was really proud of our girls for being able to give ourselves a chance against a top-10 opponent," head UVU coach Sam Atoa said. "It was just awesome. This was a great environment for our young team to be able to start the season at. There were for sure some nerves, but the girls did a nice job of handling them and I'm proud of how we competed."

Six newcomers saw time in the exhibition contest for the Wolverines, and freshman outside hitter Kazna Tarawhiti led the group with seven kills and seven digs. Freshman right side Kaili Downs was next with six kills and five blocks, while junior transfer Makaila Jarema followed with four kills, sophomore transfer Jaysa Funk Stratton added seven assists and four digs and freshman Abbie Vincent chipped in six digs and a service ace. Overall, preseason All-WAC selection Kristen Allred paced the Wolverines offensively with nine kills, six digs and a pair of blocks.

UVU hung right with the six-straight NCAA qualifying Cougars in the opening set, as the Wolverines reeled off a 7-1 run on their way to taking a 17-16 advantage. With BYU later leading by a point, Utah Valley countered with back-to-back points on a pair of Cougar attack errors to take a late 21-20 lead. Tied 21-21, UVU then drove home three-straight points to take a 24-21 set-point advantage. The freshman Downs capped the rally for the Wolverines with a kill. Brigham Young then answered right back with three-straight points to deadlock the score at 24-all. With UVU again holding to a set-point advantage at 25-24 following a BYU service error, the Cougars countered with three-consecutive clutch points to take the tightly contested opener by a score of 27-25.

BYU held the upper hand early in the second set, as it jumped out to an 11-7 advantage. UVU later bounced back with three-consecutive points to tie the second stanza at 16-all. Tarawhiti drove home a kill during the spurt, and Allred and junior Jasmine Niutupuivaha combined for a block assist. With the set later tied at 19-19, BYU's Roni Jones-Perry drove home three-straight kills to give the Cougars a 22-19 advantage. Following an ace from Vincent and a kill from Downs, UVU again deadlocked the score at 22-all. The eighth-ranked Cougars then managed to answer with the three final points down the stretch to take the second game by a score of 25-22.

In another tightly contested set, the Wolverines were the first to take control by jumping out to an early 9-5 third-set lead. Tarawhiti recorded two kills during the stretch, while Jarema added a kill and a block. Leading 10-7, BYU reeled off five unanswered points to take a 12-10 advantage. Behind a pair of Allred kills, UVU then struck back with a 4-1 run to take a 14-13 lead. BYU responded right back, however, with a 7-2 run to take a 20-16 lead. The preseason WCC favorite Cougars held their lead from there, as they went on to take the final set, 25-20.

BYU's reigning All-American Jones-Perry led all players on the day with 20 kills, while preseason All-WCC selection Lyndie Haddock-Eppich added a match-high 43 assists.

Utah Valley will now return home for the annual Green and White scrimmage on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 6 p.m., at UVU's Lockhart Arena. Admission to the exhibition contest is free. Following the match, the Wolverines will hit the road to officially open their 2018 campaign on Aug. 24-25, at the UC Davis Aggie Invitational in Davis, California. There, UVU will face Holy Cross and the host Aggies on Aug. 24, before capping the opening tournament against Northern Arizona of the Big Sky Conference on Aug. 25. Utah Valley will then return home to welcome Idaho State to town for its home opener on Tuesday, Aug. 28.