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UVU volleyball: Utah Valley drops finale at NM State, will enter WAC Tournament as three seed

By James Warnick

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Nov. 21 2013 10:51 p.m. MST

Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stringham goes up for the hit. She led UVU on Thursday night at New Mexico State with a match-high 10 kills and five blocks.

Shane Truskolaski, UVU Athletics

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LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Utah Valley University volleyball fell in straight sets in its regular season finale to the WAC Regular Season Champion New Mexico State Aggies at the Pan American Center on Thursday night (18-25, 18-25, 20-25). With the loss, UVU finished its first season of play in the WAC in a tie for third place with an 11-5 league record and will enter next week's conference tournament as the three seed.

The Wolverines (18-14) will face the six-seed Seattle U in the opening round of the WAC Tournament on Monday at 5 p.m. at the GCU Arena in Phoenix, Ariz.

"New Mexico State played very well and we just couldn't keep up with them," UVU head coach Sam Atoa said. "They really stuck to their game plan and were the better team tonight."

The Aggies (20-10, 14-2 WAC) got off to a hot start in the opening set as they doubled up UVU at 12-6 following a Wolverine attack error. After a pair of kills from Cassie Wahlin and another one from Nakisha Willden, Utah Valley cut the deficit to three, at 12-9. That was as close as the Wolverines would get the rest of the frame, however, as NM State took the first set by seven points.

The Wolverines kept the second set much tighter in the first half of the frame as they trailed just 15-13 following a kill from Katie Fritzler. After a late kill from Lauren Stringham, UVU found itself down just 20-17, but the Aggies answered as they finished the second set on a 5-1 run to take a 2-0 advantage in the match.

After the intermission break, Utah Valley looked strong in the early stages of the third set as it jumped out to an 8-4 advantage following a handful of Aggie miscues. NMSU battled right back, however, by scoring four straight points to tie the score at 8-8. With UVU later on top at 12-11 following an ace from McKenna Tait, the Aggies went on a 7-0 run to take an 18-12 lead. The Wolverines tried to stage a late comeback by scoring four unanswered points with NM State holding a match-point advantage, but it wasn't enough as the Aggies finished off the sweep by taking the final set, 25-20.

With the defeat, the Wolverines and Aggies split the season series as UVU previously swept NM State in Orem on Oct. 19.

Stringham paced the Wolverines on Thursday with a match-high 10 kills and five blocks. Fritzler was next in kills for UVU with seven, while Willden added five. The reigning WAC Player of the Week Desiree Scott and Gwen Murphy led New Mexico State as they each recorded nine kills and five blocks.

The winner of the opening-round contest between UVU and SU at the WAC Tournament on Monday will face No. 2 Bakersfield on Tuesday at 5 p.m. The championship match will then take place Wednesday at 5 p.m., with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"It's a new beginning for everybody and we embrace the opportunity to get out there and compete," Atoa said when asked about next week's WAC Tournament. "There are some good things that can happen but it's in our hands. If the girls are willing to do that then we've got a shot."

James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.