We executed well in the fifth set today like we have in our last three fifth sets, but we need to get better in the earlier sets - especially when we have a lead like we had today. —UVU head volleyball coach Sam Atoa
OREM -- Sophomore Kalani Norris smashed a career-high 21 kills and three other Wolverines finished in double-digit kills as Utah Valley University won its fourth consecutive five-set match (20-25, 25-16, 25-13, 21-25, 15-12) over NJIT Saturday afternoon in the PE Building.
"We're learning a lot playing so many sets over the last few games," UVU head volleyball coach Sam Atoasaid. "We executed well in the fifth set today like we have in our last three fifth sets, but we need to get better in the earlier sets - especially when we have a lead like we had today."
After failing to put the match away in the fourth set, UVU (11-7, 3-0 GWC) entered a do-or-die fifth set for the fourth straight game. NJIT (8-12, 1-3 GWC), looked to build on the fourth-set win and control the decisive set early, grabbing a 4-1 lead. The Wolverines responded with their own 4-1 run to knot the score at 5-5. Kills from senior Erica Nish, junior Lindsay Morrell, and freshman Lauren Stringham propelled the rally.
The next three points went to the visitors, prompting a timeout from the UVU bench.
Needing another rally to stay alive, UVU got a kickstart with back-to-back kills from Stringham and Norris to make the score 9-8 in favor of NJIT.
A Wolverine attack error returned the serve to the Highlanders, but Norris came through again with consecutive kills to level the score at 10-10.
The teams split the next four points, but an NJIT attack error gave way to a big kill from Nish to push UVU to match point at 14-12. Morrell delivered the decisive kill on the next point to give the Wolverines their fourth consecutive five-set victory.
The dramatic final frame featured three lead changes as UVU got four kills apiece from Norris and Morrell and 10 assists from junior setter Brookelyn Hall.
Behind Norris' big day, Stringham finished with 12 kills and was just one block away from a double-double. Nish and Morrell each added 10 kills with the former chipping in four blocks.
"I think we're starting to get more consistency in our attack and we need that," added Atoa. "We need to continue to get production from our outside hitters to complement what our middles are doing."
Hall's 44 assists and 14 digs were good for a double-double.
The Highlanders had three players finish with double-doubles as Danica Vukotic had 19 kills and 14 digs, Janet Snell put up 19 kills and 12 digs, and Camilla Tinari claimed 12 kills and 10 digs.
It was all NJIT to begin the match, as the Highlanders jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead in set one. The slow start spelled trouble for UVU, which, despite a few brief rallies, could never pull any closer than three points of the visitors. NJIT would take the first set 25-20.
UVU held an early advantage in set two, opening the frame on a 4-1 run behind a pair of kills from Hall. The early advantage grew to 8-4 after back-to-back kills from Stringham but eight of the next ten points went to NJIT, as it grabbed a 12-10 lead.
The Wolverines reclaimed the lead almost as quickly as they had surrendered it, reeling off four consecutive points with a superb defensive effort. A kill by Norris gave way to a combined block from Norris and Nish, a solo block from Jaramey Barney and another combined stuff from Nish and Barney.
A kill from Morrell pushed the advantage to 17-12, and UVU would not look back from there, closing the set on a 6-0 run to collect a 25-16 win to level the set score at 1-1.
Stringham smashed five kills in the set, including three in the set-ending rally.
UVU picked up where it left off in set three, taking a quick 6-1 lead behind a pair of kills from Morrell and another from Norris. With the score now 9-5, the Wolverines opened up what would become an 11-3 spurt, getting three more kills from Norris and a pair of block assists from Hall and Stringham.
Norris would add another kill and Bailey Farris delivered a pair late to send the Wolverines to a 25-13 second set win.
Norris finished with a set-high six kills, and Hall handed out nine assists.
After both sides traded points early, NJIT built a lead late in the fourth set at 18-13. UVU matched the Highlanders point for point from there but was unable to come up with the big rally it needed, falling 25-21 as the match bled into the decisive fifth set.
With the win, the Wolverines have won 14 consecutive matches at home dating back to last season. Having won its last four matches, UVU owns a 3-0 conference mark, good for tops in the Great West Conference.
The Wolverines continue their five-match homestand next weekend when they host league-foe Chicago State on Friday night at 7 p.m. and future WAC opponent CSU Bakersfield at 6 p.m. Saturday. Saturday's match with the Roadrunners will be the final non-conference tilt for UVU this season.
Kellen Hiser is sports information assistant at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.