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UVU volleyball: Utah Valley heads to Phoenix for next week's WAC Tournament

By James Warnick

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Nov. 23 2013 6:45 p.m. MST

OREM - Utah Valley University volleyball will head to its first-ever WAC Tournament this weekend as the three seed and will open play Monday against the sixth-seeded Seattle U Redhawks. The 2013 WAC Volleyball Tournament will be hosted by Grand Canyon University and will take place Nov. 25-27 at the GCU Arena in Phoenix, Ariz.

Live video for all five matches of the tournament can be accessed through WACSports.tv at a one-time price of $9.95. Live stats will also be available free of charge by visiting the WAC website. For ticket information for the 2013 WAC Tournament visit GCU's website.

UVU (18-14) finished the regular season in a tie for third place with Idaho in the WAC standings with identical 11-5 league records. Utah Valley held the tiebreaker over the Vandals, however, to earn the three seed.

The top six teams in the WAC qualified for the tournament, and regular season champion New Mexico State earned the top seed after going 14-2 in conference play. Both NM State as well as No. 2 Bakersfield (12-4) will receive first-round byes and won't open play until Tuesday's semifinals.

Following UVU versus SU in the tournament opener Monday at 5 p.m., No. 4 Idaho (11-5) will play No. 5 Kansas City (9-7) later that night at 7:30. The winner of the Utah Valley/Seattle contest will then face Bakersfield on Tuesday at 5 p.m., while NM State will take on the winner of Idaho and UMKC. The championship contest will then be played Wednesday at 5 p.m., with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Utah Valley won the Great West Conference Tournament in its final year of play in that league last season by sweeping past Texas-Pan American and Houston Baptist. But with the Great West Tournament Champion not receiving an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament this year marks a new opportunity for UVU.

"It's a new beginning for everybody and we embrace the opportunity to get out there and compete," head coach Sam Atoa said. "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."

The Wolverines dropped their final two matches of the regular season against the top two seeds, as they fell, 3-2, to Bakersfield at home on Nov. 16 (25-9, 23-25, 25-19, 20-25, 14-16) and in straight sets at New Mexico State on Thursday (18-25, 18-25, 20-25). Sophomore Lauren Stringham led UVU in both matches as the middle blocker posted a double-double against the `Runners with 11 kills and 10 blocks and a match-high 10 kills and five blocks Thursday at NM State.

Stringham leads the WAC in total blocks on the season with 156 and ranks second in the league in block per average at 1.33 as well as 32nd nationally. Junior libero McKenna Tait is also tops in the conference in aces with 53, and her 0.45 per set average is good enough for 15th in the nation. Junior Kalani Norris paces the team in kills with 324, while senior Brookelyn Hall leads the way in assists (9.49 per set average) and hitting percentage (.308).

The WAC Tournament will mark a homecoming of sorts for Hall and freshman Kelcee Munk, as the two hail from Arizona. Hall calls Gilbert home while Munk is from from Mesa.

About Seattle U

The Redhawks earned the No. 6 seed for the WAC Tournament after finishing the season with a 12-19 overall record and a 9-7 league mark. SU's 9-7 record was good enough for a tie for fifth place. SU concluded its regular season with a 3-1 win at Chicago State on Nov. 16. Prior to that victory, the Redhawks had lost three straight matches.

Iris Ivanis leads Seattle on the season in kills with 285, while Martina Samadan paces the squad in kill per set average (3.26) and hitting percentage (.431). Stephanie Stoll is tops on the team in blocks with 80 (0.85 per set average).

The Wolverines and Redhawks split the season series with each team winning on their home court. SU won the first meeting on Sept. 28 in Seattle in five sets (22-25, 25-14, 25-27, 25-23, 13-15), while Utah Valley took care of business in Orem on Oct. 26 by sweeping Seattle U (25-19, 25-23, 25-9). Monday's contest will mark the fourth all-time meeting between the two schools, with UVU holding a 2-1 series advantage.

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