The Utah Valley University volleyball team remains close to home this weekend, as it takes part in the BYU Invitational in Provo on Friday and Saturday. The Wolverines face UMBC on Friday afternoon, before playing a pair of top-10 teams, No. 5 Washington and host No. 10 BYU, on Saturday.
“This weekend will be a great opportunity for us. It will be very challenging to face two top-10 teams, as well as UMBC, but we’re looking forward to it,” head coach Sam Atoa said. “Hopefully we will have some good practices between now and then where we’ll be able to gain some confidence to help us execute and play the game like we know we can.”
The Washington and BYU matches will mark the third and fourth nationally ranked teams the Wolverines will face on the young season after taking on No. 22 Kansas and No. 23 Creighton at the Kansas Invitational last week. In all, UVU will face seven opponents that made the 2013 NCAA Tournament this year.
UVU enters the tournament with a 0-4 record after falling to the ranked Jayhawks and Bluejays, as well as Lipscomb, at the season-opening Kansas Invitational last weekend. The Wolverines then also dropped a neutral-site contest to Wyoming at Evanston High School on Monday.
In Monday’s match against the Cowgirls, UVU stayed right with UW for the early stages of the opening set, but Wyoming closed the frame on a 12-1 run to win the first set, 25-14. UW then continued right where it left off into the second frame as it jumped out to a 9-1 lead in set two and went on to win the set, 25-13. UVU then held a 9-4 lead in the third set, but the Cowgirls managed to overcome the deficit and sweep the contest with a 25-20 third-set victory.
Junior middle blocker Lauren Bakker paced the Wolverines in the midweek contest with 11 kills. Sophomore outside hitter Nakisha Willden was next with seven.
On the season, the Preseason WAC Player of the Year Bakker leads UVU with a 3.43 kill per set average, a 3.14 attack percentage and a 1.29 block per set average. Sophomore outside hitter Macky Treanor is leading the way for the Wolverines in kills with 31, while freshman middle blocker Madison Wolford is pacing the squad in blocks with 12. Senior libero McKenna Tait, who was named to the Kansas Invite All-Tournament Team, holds the team lead in digs with 52 (4.00 dps).
The Retrievers are a perfect 4-0 on the season after winning the UMES Hawks Hullabaloo Tournament last weekend. UMBC picked up victories over South Dakota State, Fairleigh Dickinson, UMES and Weber State a week ago. The Retrievers were picked to win the America East Conference this year after taking second in the league in 2013.
Junior Sherelle Walker led UMBC last weekend as she earned tournament MVP honors. Walker ended the tournament with a .451 hitting percentage, 39 kills and a 2.79 kill per set average. She was also tabbed the AEC’s Player of the Week a couple of days ago after her standout performance last weekend. Abbie Mirabella too played well for the Retrievers as she recorded 45 kills and a 3.21 kill per set average.
Friday’s contest will be the first all-time meeting between the Wolverines and Retrievers.
The fifth-ranked Huskies are 3-0 in 2014 after sweeping Portland State and Boise State, as well as defeating Gonzaga in five sets, at the Northwest Challenge last week. After advancing to the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament last year, UW was picked to finish third in the Pac-12 this season behind Stanford and USC. Washington won the Pac-12 last year and finished the season 32-3 and 18-2 in conference play.
Kaleigh Nelson and Krista Vansant, who were named Preseason All-Pac-12, lead the Huskies on the young season with 43 and 42 respective kills. Nelson also holds a 3.91 kill per set average and a .514 attack percentage, while Vansant is right behind her at 3.82 and .434.
Saturday morning’s match will mark the second all-time meeting against Washington. The Huskies hold a 1-0 series advantage after defeating UVU in straight sets when they were ranked 14th at the time on Nov. 25, 2003, in Seattle.
The 10th-ranked Cougars are 3-0 on the campaign after picking up sweeps over West Virginia, IUPUI and Toledo last weekend at the Gold and Blue Player’s Challenge. BYU finished second in the West Coast Conference a year ago and was picked to win the league this season. The Cougars also appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2013.
BYU is led by junior outside hitter Alexa Gray and senior opposite hitter Jennifer Hamson. Both have previously received All-America accolades in their careers and were each recently named Preseason All-WCC.
Saturday’s match will mark the 10th all-time meeting between the two programs at the Division I level with the Cougars holding a 9-0 series advantage.
Up next for the Wolverines
UVU will head to Salt Lake City to take on the University of Utah on Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. Following the in-state contest, the Wolverines will travel to Denton, Texas, for the Mean Green Classic on Sept. 12-13. There, UVU will face Abilene Christian, Jackson State and host North Texas.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.