OREM — Utah Valley overcame a 2-1 deficit in its first-ever home Western Athletic Conference match to down first-place Kansas City, 3-2 (20-25, 25-21, 21-25, 25-19, 15-7), on Thursday night in the PE Building. With the victory, the Wolverines have now won seven of their last eight matches and are 3-1 in WAC play.
"Tonight was a huge challenge. UMKC put up a really good fight and played well," head coach Sam Atoa said. "I was a little concerned early in the match, however, but the girls were composed and able to control what we needed to. It kind of became a seesaw battle from there until we got to the fifth set when we were able to close it out."
Juniors Kalani Norris and Cassie Wahlin recorded career-highs in kills for UVU, which improved to .500 overall on the season (9-9), with 22 and 12, respectively. Norris also hit a team-high .372 for the match, while Wahlin added a team-best six blocks. The duo also each added double-doubles with 18 and 16 respective digs. Freshman Nakisha Willden too recorded a double-double for the Wolverines as she finished with 10 kills and 11 digs.
Trailing two sets to one on the scoreboard, Norris helped the Wolverines take an 18-16 lead in the fourth set after four kills in five points. Another kill from Norris followed by a Fritzler kill and a block assist from Wahlin and Fritzler as well as two `Roo errors helped UVU pull ahead late at 23-17. The Wolverines put the set away a couple of points later on a Wahlin kill. UVU outhit UMKC .324 - .167 in the frame, and Norris led the way with eight kills.
Utah Valley remained hot in the early stages of the fifth set as it took a quick 4-0 advantage thanks to three UMKC errors. The Kangaroos pulled to within two at 5-3, but UVU followed it up by scoring four of the next five points to take a 9-4 lead. Norris led the spurt with three kills.
Utah Valley held the momentum from there as it completed the comeback victory on a 7-2 run. Norris once again led UVU with four kills in the set, while Wahlin added three. As a team, the Wolverines outhit the `Roos .368 - .043 in the decisive fifth set.
Senior Katie Fritzler and sophomore Lauren Stringham also played well for UVU as they added nine kills apiece. Senior Brookelyn Hall led the way in assists with a match-high 51, while junior McKenna Tait paced the Wolverines in digs (26) and aces (3).
Jessica Hendin led Kansas City with 15 kills, while Melissa Hartsel added 10 blocks.
The Kangaroos jumped out to a 10-5 lead in the opener, but Utah Valley countered with a 6-0 run to take its first lead of the set at 11-10. The game stayed tight from there until Kansas City scored three straight late points to take a 24-19 set-point advantage. UMKC finished off the first set two points later on a kill from Highland, Utah, native Chloe Jarema.
Trailing 11-10 in the second set, UVU used a 6-0 run to take a 16-11 advantage. Tait's two service aces helped spark the run for the Wolverines.
The 'Roos quickly closed the gap moments later thanks to a 5-0 run of their own to tie the second set at 17-all. The Wolverines pulled ahead late, however, at 23-19, following a block assist from Fritzler Wahlin. Kansas City tried to stage a late comeback, but Wahlin helped UVU put the set away and even the match at 1-all by drilling home the final kill of the set.
With the third set all tied up at 15, the Kangaroos (8-7, 2-1 WAC) reeled off three straight points to take an 18-15 advantage. UMKC later extended its lead to four at 21-17, but back-to-back kills from Fritzler brought the Wolverines back to within striking distance, down just 21-19. The `Roos answered from there, however, by scoring the next three points to pull ahead, 24-19. Following two late kills from Willden, Hendin put the set away for Kansas City with a kill.
Thursday's contest marked the first-ever meeting between the Wolverines and 'Roos.
UVU looks to continue its winning ways Saturday when WAC newcomer Chicago State comes to town for a 1 p.m. contest. The Wolverines hold a perfect 12-0 all-time series advantage over the Cougars.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.