LAS VEGAS - The Utah Valley University women's volleyball team fell in four sets to UNLV in Las Vegas Friday night (11-25, 17-25, 25-18, 20-25). The contest was the Wolverines' (7-7) first loss to a team from Mountain West Conference this season after they previously defeated both Fresno State and Nevada earlier this year.
The match also marked UVU's ninth consecutive away from home and its final non-conference tune-up before beginning Great West Conference play on the road next week.
"We didn't play very well in the first two sets," Wolverine coach Sam Atoa said. "Going into the match we felt like we would be ready to go, but we struggled in all areas game early on. I was proud of how the team was able to respond and play with more emotion in the third and fourth set but it just wasn't good enough."
UNLV (10-5) got off to a hot start in the opening set by jumping out to an early 10-3 advantage. A kill from UVU senior Erica Nish made it a six-point deficit, at 13-7, but that was as close as the Wolverines would get as the Rebels led the opener from start to finish and won the set 25-11.
The Wolverines fell behind by four points in the beginning of the second frame (7-3) but quickly recovered and tied the score at 8-8 after two kills from sophomore McKenna Tait and a block assist from junior Katie Fritzler and Nish. UVU later took its first lead of the night after a Nish kill and extended its advantage to 11-9 after a kill by sophomore Kalani Norris.
The second game remained tight until the Rebels broke a 14-14 tie with four straight points to pull ahead 18-14. Kills from Fritzler and Nish pulled UVU to within three at 20-17, but UNLV would score the next five points to take a 2-0 lead on the scoreboard.
Utah Valley bounced back in the third set as it took an early 7-2 advantage. Norris sparked the Wolverine run with three kills and a solo block early in the frame. Later in the third, the Rebels pulled to within three, at 8-5, and four, at 12-8, but the third game belonged to UVU as the road team ran away with set, 25-18. Norris led the Wolverines with seven kills and two blocks in the frame. As a team, UVU outhit the Rebels .267-.054 and recorded six team blocks to UNLV's three.
"We controlled the net and executed much better in the third set," Atoa said. "We also hit a pretty good percentage as well."
The momentum stayed in UVU's favor in the beginning of the fourth set, as it took an 8-4 lead after a kill from Nish. The Wolverines later extended their advantage to 13-8 following a solo block from junior Brookelyn Hall. The Rebels answered back however with six consecutive points to take a 14-13 lead of their own. Madeline Westman led the UNLV rally with three kills during the stretch.
A kill from Fritzler later tied the fourth set at 14-all, but the Rebels stayed hot and scored six of the next seven points to take a late 20-15 lead. The Wolverines pulled to within three twice, at 21-18, and, 23-20, but that was as close as UVU would get as the Rebels put the match away with a 25-20 fourth set victory.
Despite the loss, Norris and Nish each tallied double figures in kills for the Wolverines. Norris tied a career-high with 12 while Nish added 10. Fritzler led UVU at the net with seven blocks, two solos and seven block assists. Fritzler also added seven kills on the night.
Westman and Sekola Falemaka led UNLV with 14 kills apiece. Falemaka also notched 16 digs for a double-double.
UVU will begin its quest to repeat in the Great West Conference next week when it travels to the Lone Star State to take on Texas-Pan American on Oct. 4 and Houston Baptist on Oct. 6.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.