MOSCOW, Idaho — Trailing Idaho two sets to one in its first-ever Western Athletic Conference match on the road Thursday night, the Utah Valley University volleyball team completed the unprecedented comeback to defeat the Vandals in their home opener in five sets (22-25, 25-22, 19-25, 25-21, 15-11). The victory is UVU's fifth in a row.
"When the schedule came out we knew that tonight was going to be a huge uphill battle," head coach Sam Atoa said. "I felt like our girls stayed composed and that everyone did a great job."
Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stringham had a monster game for the Wolverines (7-8, 1-0 WAC) as she paced her team with a career-high 18 kills and six blocks. Fellow middle blocker, senior Katie Fritzler too topped double figures in kills as she finished with 10, while junior outside hitter Kalani Norris chipped in nine. Fritzler also added five blocks while senior setter Brookelyn Hall added 38 assists, six kills, six digs and four blocks. Junior McKenna Tait put up a match and season-high 27 digs.
"I felt that Lauren played an outstanding ballgame," Atoa said. "For her to get that many sets especially against the preseason conference player of the year was huge for us. She had great rhythm and played a great match both defensively and offensively. I was also pleased with how aggressive and active both Katie and McKenna were for us as well."
After falling behind two sets to one, the Wolverines regained the momentum early on in the fourth set as they jumped out to a 9-4 lead thanks to three kills from Stringham during the stretch. UI (7-6, 0-1 WAC) quickly battled back, however, by scoring seven of the next nine points to tie the frame at 11-all.
UVU later used a 5-0 run to take a 19-15 advantage in the must-win fourth set. Stringham's pair of aces led the spurt. Two late kills from Hall and an ace from Tait on set-point gave the Wolverines the fourth frame as they took the set by four points.
Down 6-3 early in the decisive fifth set, UVU turned things around with a 6-0 run to take a 9-6 lead. Utah Valley scored on kills from Stringham, Hall, Norris and junior Jaramey Barney during the stretch. A kill from the WAC Preseason Player of Year Alyssa Schultz later pulled the Vandals to within one at 11-10, but UVU answered by scoring the next three points to take a 13-9 lead. The Wolverines later completed the comeback on consecutive kills by Fritzler.
Freshman outside hitter Nakisha Willden also had a nice match for UVU as she chipped in seven kills and two blocks. Junior Cassie Wahlin recorded five kills, while fellow junior Jen Hardman added a season-high eight assists and two blocks. Schultz and Jessica Hastriter led Idaho with 13 kills apiece.
Trailing 15-13 in the first set, the Wolverines reeled off six straight points to take a 19-15 advantage. The Vandals, who were projected to finish second in the WAC this season after going 13-5 in the league last year, quickly erased the Wolverine lead with four unanswered points of their own to tie the score at 19-19. The set went back and forth down the stretch from there until Idaho managed to put it away on consecutive points on a kill from Ashley Christman and a Wolverine attack error.
UI jumped out to a quick 9-3 lead in the second set, but the Wolverines countered back by scoring six of the next eight points to pull within two at 11-9. UVU later tied the set for the time at 14-all and scored the next couple of points to take a 16-14 advantage. The Wolverines extended their lead to three at 22-19 and went on to take the second set, 25-22.
Utah Valley used a 6-1 run in the early stages of the third set to take a 10-8 lead over the Vandals. Stringham led the spurt with a pair of kills while Fritzler added a kill and a block of her own. Idaho took control from there as it scored the next three points to regain the lead and didn't look back as it stretched its lead to as many as six points late to take a two sets to one advantage.
The contest marked the first-ever meeting between the Wolverines and Vandals. It also marked Utah Valley's fifth consecutive win, all of which have come on its current seven-match road swing.
The Wolverines will continue their conference-opening road trip at Seattle U on Saturday night. Following Saturday's contest against the Redhawks, UVU will head to Edinburg, Texas, for a Monday night showdown against former Great West foe Texas-Pan American.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.
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