OREM — The Utah Valley University women's volleyball team will get the 2013 season underway with a bang this weekend by hosting the La Quinta Inn and Suites Invitational. This year's opening tournament will be a challenging one for the Wolverines, as they face Arizona State on Friday at 7 p.m., North Dakota State on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and No. 24 Wichita State on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Two of the three opponents UVU will take on this weekend were NCAA Tournament teams last season in ASU and Wichita State. NDSU also appeared in the Big Dance in 2010 and 2011.
"This is going to be a very tough opening tournament to start off with, but we're thrilled that it's at home," said 15th-year head coach Sam Atoa. "We've definitely got our hands full to play a quality opponent in ASU right from the beginning. Wichita State is another very good team that was in the NCAA Tournament last year and will be a tough opponent as will North Dakota State."
The Wolverines are coming off of an 18-9 season and their second straight Great West Conference Championship. This year will mark a new venture for the Wolverines, however, as they begin their first season of play in the Western Athletic Conference.
"We're very excited to be in the WAC. It is great for us to be in such a reputable conference with a rich history," Atoa said. "The highlight of being in the WAC is having the opportunity to qualify for an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament."
The WAC recently released tabbed UVU to finish third in its preseason poll and named senior setter Brookelyn Hall and sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stringham preseason all-conference. The duo along with senior middle blocker Katie Fritzler, junior libero McKenna Tait and junior outside hitter Kalani Norris will look to lead UVU in 2013.
About Arizona State
The Wolverines will meet up with the Sun Devils for the fourth time in program history Friday. ASU holds a 2-1 all-time advantage. The last meeting came in September 2010, when the Wolverines left Tempe with a five-set victory over the Sun Devils and an ASU Sheraton Invitational crown with a perfect 3-0 mark that weekend.
Arizona State went 20-14 in 2012 and 9-11 in Pac-12 play. The Sun Devils made the NCAA Tournament last season but were eliminated in the first round after they dropped a five-set battle to Oklahoma. The 20 victories matched the most wins for the Sun Devils since 1993 when they went 20-8.
This season ASU returns 10 letterwinners including sophomore outside hitter Macey Gardner, who was named First Team All Pac-12 in 2012 after posting 577 kills and a 4.40 kill per set average.
About North Dakota State
Utah Valley holds a 4-2 all-time series lead over the Bison, but the two squads haven't met since the 2006 season. The Wolverines also hold a 2-1 advantage against NDSU in Orem.
North Dakota State went 13-18 overall last season and finished fifth in the Summit League with a .500 record (8-8). Last year marked just the second year since 2008 that the Bison missed out on qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
NDSU returns four letterwinners and three starters in 2013. Sophomore outside hitter Jenni Fassbender is NDSU's top returner after she finished fourth on the team in kills a season ago with 201 (2.05 kill per set average).
About Wichita State
Saturday will mark the first all-time meeting between the Wolverines and Shockers. It will also be the first ranked opponent that UVU will welcome to the PE Building since it fell to No. 24 Michigan on Sept. 2, 2011.
Wichita State went 24-10 overall last season and took third in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 13-5 league record. The Shockers made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament last year before being eliminated by No. 4 USC. WSU is no stranger to the Big Dance, as they've made the NCAA Tournament in each of the past six seasons.
The Shockers were recently tabbed to win the Missouri Valley Conference this season, and they return 10 letterwinners and five starters. Senior setter Chelsey Feekin (9.90 assist per set average in 2012) and senior middle blocker Elizabeth Field (2.14 kill per set average, 0.73 block per set average) were recently named Preseason All-Valley and were also All-Valley selections last season.
Up next for the Wolverines
Following the La Quinta Inn and Suites Invitational, Utah Valley will have a quick turnaround as it will welcome No. 13 BYU to town on Tuesday. The rivalry match will begin at 7 p.m. and will be televised locally on UVU TV.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.