OREM — The Utah Valley University volleyball team will begin its quest to repeat as Great West Conference Champions this week when the Wolverines travel to the Lone Star State to take on Texas-Pan American Thursday at 5:30 p.m. MT and Houston Baptist Saturday at 1 p.m. MT.
The contests will be UVU's 10th and 11th consecutive road matches, as the Wolverines have not played at home since Sept. 4. Utah Valley will conclude its five-week long, 12-match road stretch next Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Utah State. The Wolverines are 7-7 on the season and have gone 5-4 so far during their current road stretch. A year ago, UVU won its first GWC Championship by going 9-1 in conference play. The Wolverines' lone conference loss came at Houston Baptist a year ago, a team UVU will play on Saturday afternoon.
"We've got to be consistent throughout the conference season," UVU head coach Sam Atoa said. "We've got the tools, we have the talent and we know what it will take to win it. Being consistent will help get us where we need to be."
Last week the Wolverines dropped their only match in four sets at UNLV. UVU fell behind two sets to none before it got going and won the third set. The Wolverines then battled with the home Rebels in the fourth set, but UNLV eventually took the set and the match (11-25, 17-25, 25-18, 20-25).
Sophomore outside hitter Kalani Norris and senior middle blocker Erica Nish led the Wolverines against the Rebels as Norris tied a career-high with 12 kills, and Nish also reached double figures with 10. Junior middle blocker Katie Fritzler led the way at the net with a career-high seven kills (two solos and five block assists).
For the season sophomore outside hitter McKenna Tait leads the Wolverines in kills with 104 and a 2.00 kill per set average. Freshman middle blocker Lauren Stringham is next in kills with 95 and also holds a solid .301 attack percentage. Stringham also leads the squad in blocks with 68 (nine solos and 59 block assists) and a 1.28 block per set average.
About UTPA: Texas-Pan American is 8-10 overall this season and off to a 1-0 start in conference play after a 3-1 road win at NJIT last weekend. The Broncs are hot right now as they have won five straight matches and six of their last seven. In the GWC Preseason Coaches Poll, UTPA was tabbed to finish fourth in the conference this year.
Diara Reynolds and Michelle McNamee and their 132 kills apiece lead the Broncs offensively. Reynolds also leads the team in kill per set average, with 2.54, while McNamee is next with an average of 2.10. At the net UTPA is led by Haley Durham and her 37 blocks (seven solos and 30 block assists).
Thursday's matchup between the Broncs and Wolverines will be the 20th all-time meeting. UVU holds a commanding 18-1 series advantage and has won the last 14 matches. UTPA's lone victory came in five sets on Oct. 28, 2005 in Edinburg, Texas.
About HBU: Houston Baptist is 12-8 overall and currently in first place in the Great West with a 2-0 conference record. The Huskies currently have a four-match win streak and a week ago they began conference play by defeating both Chicago State and NJIT on the road. HBU was selected to finish second in the conference's preseason coaches poll.
Heather Leaverton leads the Huskies with 224 kills and a 3.29 kill per set average. Her teammate Madeline Gaffney is tops on the team in blocks with 56 (12 solos and 44 block assists) and a 0.82 block per set average.
Saturday's contest will be the ninth all-time meeting between HBU and UVU, with the Wolverines leading the all-time series 7-1. UVU won the first six meeting, but the Huskies ended the streak last year in Houston as they handed UVU their lone loss in conference play (Oct. 15, 2011).
Up Next for the Wolverines: UVU will conclude its 12-match road stretch at Utah State next Tuesday, Oct. 9. The Wolverines will then welcome conference foe NJIT to Orem for a Saturday matinee on Oct. 13.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.