After a third-place finish in his first season of play in the Western Athletic Conference a year ago, 16th-year head coach Sam Atoa said he has high expectations for his Utah Valley University volleyball team in 2014.
The Wolverines, who went 18-15 overall a year ago, tied for third in the WAC with an 11-5 league record. UVU returns 10 letterwinners from last year's club, including five of its seven starters. The 2014 Wolverine roster features a good mix of experience to go along with its underclassmen as it boasts five seniors, two juniors, five sophomores and five freshmen. In all, Atoa welcomes seven newcomers to the fold, including a pair of transfers.
Utah Valley also welcomes back two First Team All-WAC performers from a year ago in senior libero McKenna Tait and junior middle blocker Lauren Bakker. The newly married Bakker (formerly Stringham) was not only named First Team All-Conference last season but also the WAC's Preseason Player of the Year this year after leading the league in blocks in 2013. Bakker, Tait and senior outside hitter Kalani Norris were all recently named Preseason All-WAC as well.
The three preseason all-conference selections along with seniors Cassie Wahlin (right side), Jen Hardman (setter) and Jaramey Barney (middle blocker) will look to lead the Wolverines this year. Norris, Tait and Wahlin will make up Atoa's team captains in 2014, as the trio of seniors will look to anchor the squad.
The Wolverines will be tested early and often this season as they'll face four nationally ranked programs in their first seven matches. UVU plays two of the four on Friday as it begins the season against No. 22 Kansas at 10:30 a.m. MT and No. 23 Creighton at 4:30 p.m. MT. Both matches will be part of the Kansas Invitational in Lawrence, Kansas, as well as a Saturday contest against Lipscomb at 10:30 a.m. MT.
Following the Kansas Invite, Utah Valley has a quick turnaround to its next match, as it faces the University of Wyoming at Evanston High School in Evanston, Wyoming, on Monday at 4 p.m. The Wolverines then return to the Beehive state to face No. 4 Washington, No. 9 BYU and UMBC in Provo next weekend.
In all, Utah Valley will play its first 11 matches away from home. The Wolverines' home opener is Sept. 19, against Idaho State. That weekend UVU hosts the annual La Quinta Inn and Suites Invitational.
The following is a position breakdown for the 2014 Wolverine volleyball team.
Besides the preseason all-conference selection Norris at outside hitter, Atoa will also look for big things from a trio of sophomores in Macky Treanor, Nakisha Willden and Kiahna Steiner. Treanor had a big season prior to an injury a year ago, but Willden led the group in 2013 by being named to the All-WAC Freshman Team.
With the preseason player of the year Bakker leading the way for the Wolverines in the middle, freshmen Madison Wolford (Pleasant Grove, Utah, Pleasant Grove HS) and McKenzie Schenk (Morgan, Utah, Morgan HS) will also see extensive time at the position, as well as the senior Barney and junior transfer Megan Hunt (Mesa, Ariz./Chandler-Gilbert CC).
Wahlin will start her senior campaign at right side for UVU with sophomores Kelcee Munk and Steiner also seeing time at the position, as well as freshman Lexi Thompson (South Jordan, Utah, Bingham HS).
True freshman Sierra Starley (Twin Falls, Idaho, Twin Falls HS) has shined at the position so far in the preseason, and senior Jen Hardman, who backed up the program's all-time assist leader Brookelyn Hall who graduated last year, will also see time on the court at setter as well.
The preseason all-conference selection Tait will start at libero for UVU, but freshman Cydney Lund (Lehi, Utah, Lehi HS) and sophomore transfer Audrey Guiberson (Fort Collins, Colo./Fort Lewis College) will take the court at defensive specialists as well.
UVU volleyball: 2014 season preview
Utah Valley volleyball head coach Sam Atoa, seniors Kalani Norris and Cassie Wahlin, and junior Lauren Bakker talk about the upcoming 2014 season.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.