OREM — The Utah Valley University volleyball team will remain home for a full slate of critical matches this weekend. The Wolverines welcome Idaho on Thursday and Seattle U on Saturday for a pair of key WAC contests before finishing their five-match home stand and non-conference schedule against Southern Utah on Monday.
Both weekend conference clashes start at 7 p.m., while Monday's in-state contest against SUU begins at 6 p.m. Live video as well as live stats will be available for all three matches by visiting the UVU volleyball schedule page.
Three of the top four teams in the WAC will battle at the PE Building this weekend as UVU and Redhawks enter the weekend tied for first place in the conference standings with identical 7-2 records, while the Vandals currently sit in fourth place at 5-3.
"There's no question that these are some big matches for us. We're excited to be at home because we feel like we've been playing well here as of late," head coach Sam Atoa said. "They are still going to be huge challenges for us as they are both very good programs. But if we can keep our focus where it needs to be and protect our home court, I think we'll be in pretty good shape."
Utah Valley will be facing UI and SU for the second time of the season after it began its inaugural season of play in the WAC at Idaho on Sept. 26 and then followed it up by heading to Seattle U two nights later. The Wolverines defeated the Vandals in five sets in their conference opener before falling to the Redhawks in another five set affair. Monday's contest against the Thunderbirds will not only mark UVU and SUU's only meeting of the season, but it will also be the Wolverines' fifth and final in-state contest of the year.
Utah Valley is coming off a solid weekend last week in which it went 2-0 with wins over then first-place New Mexico State and Texas-Pan American. UVU recorded sweeps in both matches and Saturday's 3-0 win over NM State marked the Aggies' first straight-set conference loss of the season.
Senior middle blocker Katie Fritzler led the Wolverines in the two matches with 17 kills, a .517 attack percentage and six blocks. Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stringham was right behind her with 16 kills and 11 blocks, while senior setter Brookelyn Hall led the way in assists with 65. Hall also added eight blocks in the pair of conference matches.
In Saturday's sweep over NM State, junior right side Cassie Wahlin led UVU with a career-high 13 kills and a .591 attack percentage. Stringham also had a big match as she chipped in nine kills and eight blocks, and Hall finished one dig shy of her sixth double-double of the year with 33 assists and nine digs. As a team, the Wolverines outhit the then top hitting team in the WAC (NM State) .301 to .130, as well as held a 71 to 54 sideout percentage advantage.
For the season, junior Kalani Norris leads Utah Valley in kills with 239, while freshman Macky Treanor paces the way in kill per set average (3.46). Hall is tops on the squad in assists (9.28 per set average) and attack percentage (.304), while Stringham leads the way in blocks with a 1.22 per set average. Junior libero McKenna Tait's 37 aces lead the WAC and her 0.43 ace per set average ranks her 31st nationally.
As a team, UVU will enter the weekend in second place in the WAC in hitting percentage (.211) and third in blocks (2.33 per set average) and aces (1.28 per set average).
The Vandals, who are 12-8 overall, were picked to finish second in the preseason coaches' poll after taking third in the WAC a year ago. Idaho will come to Orem having won its last two matches after it swept Kansas City and Chicago State in Moscow, Idaho, last weekend. The top three teams in the conference standings — UVU, Seattle U and NM State — have handed UI its three WAC losses.
Preseason player of the year selection Alyssa Schultz leads Idaho in hitting percentage (.375) and blocks (1.15 per set average), while Jessica Hastriter is tops on the team in kills (228) and kill per set average (3.17). Setter Merideth Coba also not only paces UI in assists with her 10.63 per set average but also the entire conference. Schultz's .375 hitting percentage is also good enough to rank her first in the WAC.
Thursday's match will mark UVU and UI's first-ever contest at the PE Building in Orem. All-time, the Wolverines lead the series, 1-0.
About Seattle U
The Redhawks (10-14) will head to Bakersfield, Calif., for a date with the Bakersfield Roadrunners on Thursday before coming to Orem this weekend. Saturday's match between UVU and SU has the potential to be a first-place showdown as both squads enter play this week tied atop the conference standings. After beginning its season with just a 2-12 record, Seattle U has since turned things around having won eight of its last 10 matches including four straight. SU's only losses during the stretch came to New Mexico State and Bakersfield.
Iris Ivanis leads Seattle U with 242 kills, and Martina Samadan, the reigning WAC Player of the Week, is tops on the team in attack percentage (.484) and kill per set average (3.60). Allison Farley leads the Redhawks in blocks (0.82 per set average), while Kerry Lane paces them in assists (9.40 per set average).
Saturday's meeting between the Wolverines and Redhawks will be the third all-time contest between the two. The series is currently tied at 1-1, and the match will mark the first time that SU has visited Orem since the 2008 season.
About Southern Utah
The Thunderbirds, who are in the midst of the 10-match losing streak, enter the weekend with a 2-18 overall record and a 1-9 clip in the Big Sky Conference. SUU will also play at Idaho State and Weber State this weekend before taking on the Wolverines on Monday. Southern Utah was picked to finish ninth in the Big Sky Preseason Poll and hasn't won since Sept. 19 when it defeated Weber State in its conference opener.
Kylie Schofield leads the T-Bird attack with 199 kills and a 2.76 kill per set average. Joanna Christenson distributes the ball for SUU, as she has dished out a team-high 632 assists (8.66 per set average), while Taylor Heine is tops on the team in blocks with 76 and ranks 28th in the nation with her 1.33 per set average. As a team, SUU ranks 56th in blocks with an average of 2.53 per set.
Monday's contest will mark the seventh all-time meeting between UVU and Southern Utah. Despite losing last year's match in five sets, Utah Valley holds a 5-1 series advantage.
Up next for the Wolverines
UVU will hit the road for the first time in two weeks for its return legs at Kansas City on Nov. 2 and at Chicago State two nights later. The Wolverines' previously defeated UMKC and CSU at home in early October.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.