EDINBURG, Texas - Exactly one month into its five-week-long 12-match road stretch, Utah Valley came back from a 2-0 deficit to win its Great West Conference opener 3-2 at Texas-Pan American Thursday night (25-27, 23-25, 25-23, 25-21, 15-10).
The victory improved the Wolverines to 8-7 overall and 1-0 in conference play. It also snapped UTPA's (8-11, 1-1 GWC) five-match win streak.
"We're learning some very tough lessons about ourselves right now," UVU coach Sam Atoa said. "I'm proud of how the girls stayed composed after losing the first two sets by just two points each. They really stuck with it and were able finish off those last three sets."
UVU senior Erica Nish led the Wolverines offensively with 11 kills. Freshman Bailey Farris was next as she finished just one kill shy of double figures with nine. She also added 12 digs. Junior Brookelyn Hall tallied a double-double with 39 assists and 14 digs as well adding as eight kills, while freshman Lauren Stringham had eight kills and nine block assists and sophomore McKenna Tait added a career-high 29 digs.
In a closely contested opening set, UVU took the largest lead of the frame, at 20-16, after two kills from Tait and a solo block from Nish. The late Wolverine advantage wasn't enough however as the home Broncs quickly erased the deficit with a 5-1 run. Action went back-and-forth from there until UTPA managed to put the set away at 27-25 after a kill from Diara Reynolds and a block assist by Krysta Freitas and Haley Durham.
The Broncs kept the upper hand early in the second game as they took an 8-3 advantage. UVU answered back by scoring seven of the next nine points to tie it up at 10-all. The Wolverines then took their first lead of the set at 12-11 after a kill from Farris. UVU later extended its advantage to 18-15 and held a 23-21 lead down the stretc, but it wasn't enough as the Broncs ran off four straight points to take set number two, 25-23. UVU fell behind by four points (8-4) early in the third set after a kill by UTPA's Durham. The Wolverines battled back and tied the frame at 11-11 after a kill from junior Katie Fritzler and took the lead at 12-11 after a block by Fritzler and Hall.
The Wolverines later extended their lead to 19-16 in the third following a block assist from Farris and Stringham. The Broncs then struck right back with four straight points of their own to take a 20-19 advantage. UTPA pulled ahead late at 22-20 but back came the Wolverines as they managed to score five of the next six points to take the third frame 25-23. Farris, Hall and Nish all led UVU down the stretch with kills.
Three early kills from Stringham in the fourth set gave Utah Valley a quick three-point lead, at 6-3. A few points later the Wolverines extended their lead to four, at 10-6, after an ace from Farris. The Broncs then cut the deficit to one at 11-10 but UVU looked to take control of the set by scoring nine of the next 10 points for a 20-12 advantage. UTPA stormed back by scoring nine unanswered points to take a 21-20 lead. But Nish helped UVU snap the Bronc streak with a kil, and the Wolverines forced a fifth set by scoring the final four points of the fourth set.
Utah Valley jumped out a quick 4-1 lead in the decisive fifth set after a block by Stringham and Farris. The Wolverines maintained their three-point lead midway through the set following a kill from Farris. UTPA then pulled to within one (9-8) after scoring three of the next four points. UVU then got three late kills from Nish and one from Hall to give it a 14-9 match-point advantage. The Broncs cut the score to 14-10, but Tait helped the Wolverines put it away with an ace.
The win improved UVU to 19-1 all-time against UTPA. The Wolverines and Broncs will meet on the court again on Oct. 27 in Orem.
Reynolds led UTPA with a match-high 16 kills, while Freitas and Michelle McNamee both added double-doubles in kills and digs.
The Wolverines will continue conference play on Saturday at 1 p.m. MT when they take on Houston Baptist (12-8, 2-0 GWC) in Houston, Texas.
"HBU is a tough team and has a very good program," Atoa said. "We've had some great battles with them in the past. We'll learn a lot from this one (vs. UTPA) and look to execute better when we get back on the court on Saturday."
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.