HOUSTON - Sixteen kills apiece from junior Lindsay Morrell and sophomore Kalani Norris and 15 more senior Erica Nish helped Utah Valley improve to 2-0 in Great West Conference play with a hard fought five-set victory at Houston Baptist Saturday afternoon (25-18, 18-25, 22-25, 25-22, 15-12).
UVU (9-7) also improved to 7-4 during its current five-week-long 12-match road stretch and revoked a little revenge against the Huskies (12-9, 2-1 GWC) after it suffered its lone loss in conference play a year ago at Sharp Gym in Houston. The Wolverines went on to win their first GWC title last season with a 9-1 record and are preseason favorites to repeat again this year.
The 16 kills for Norris marked a career-high for he, while Nish's 15 matched her personal-high. Morrell not only finished one kill shy of her career-high, but she also hit a solid .389. Junior Brookelyn Hall notched another double-double with 48 assists and 13 digs while sophomore McKenna Tait added a career-best 33 digs. Freshman Lauren Stringham and Nish led UVU in blocks by each tallying six.
"You've got to hand it to the girls today," UVU coach Sam Atoa said. "We were down six points late in the fourth set but the girls didn't give up. We managed to score several straight points, which helped us tie it up and gave us back the momentum. From there we executed very well. It was a great team win."
After HBU (12-9, 2-1 GWC) scored the first point of the match, UVU reeled off eight unanswered to take an 8-1 advantage early in the opening set. The Wolverines extended their lead to 15-7 midway through the frame after a kill from Norris. The Huskies battled back and pulled within two at 19-1, but Norris helped UVU put the set away with three kills down the stretch. The Wolverines took the first frame 25-18. Set two was just the opposite as the first one, as the Huskies jumped out to a quick 7-1 advantage. UVU then fought back and pulled to within two, at 11-9, after a kill from Hall but HBU extended its six-point lead once again (17-11) and pulled away with the set. The Huskies evened the match at 1-1 after the 25-18 second set victory.
In the third set, HBU once again opened up a quick six-point lead at 10-4. The Wolverines then got going and battled back to tie the score at 14-all. Both sides traded points from there and UVU managed to take their first lead of the set at 18-17 after an attack error by HBU. The Huskies later took a late 21-18 advantage after four straight points but a big block assist from senior Nish and junior Katie Fritzler pulled UVU within one (21-20). That was as close as the Wolverines would get that set as the home Huskies took a 2-1 lead with a 25-22 victory.
The fourth set stayed close in the beginnin, but HBU built a five-point lead midway into it at 14-9. The Huskies later extended their advantage to six at 18-12 and were on the verge of taking the match, but UVU rallied by scoring 12 of the next 13 points to a 24-19 lead. Morrell led the Wolverine surge with four kills during the stretch. Stringham helped the Wolverines put the set away, at 25-20, and force a decisive fifth frame.
UVU took a 6-4 advantage in the fifth frame following a block from Fritzler and Hall. After a HBU point made it 6-5, the Wolverines scored four straight to pull ahead 10-5. The Huskies immediately answered with five consecutive points of their own to tie the score at 10-10. A couple HBU errors and a kill from Morrell then gave the Wolverines a late 13-10 lead. Houston Baptist managed to pull within two, but a final kill from Nish helped Utah Valley win the match with a 15-12 fifth set victory.
UVU outhit HBU .249-.198 in the match. The Wolverines also had two more team block than the Huskies.
Caiti Wenger led HBU with a match-high 18 kill, while her teammate Heather Leaverton added 17.
The Wolverines will return to the state of Utah to take on in-state foe Utah State Tuesday, Oct. 9. The contest will mark the conclusion to UVU's 12-match road stretch. The Wolverines will then return to conference play when it welcomes NJIT to Orem on Oct. 13 for their first home game since Sept. 4.
"We're excited to come home," added Atoa. "It's been a long stretch and there has been a lot of learning along the way. This was our biggest road trip because of the conference matches and we were able to do what we needed to do. It's nice to know that we will only have one more road trip and most of our remaining matches will be at home."
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.