PHOENIX, Ariz. - The No. 3 Utah Valley Wolverines had their season come to a close in the first round of the WAC Tournament on Monday night at the GCU Arena in Phoenix, Ariz., as No. 6 Seattle U overcame a 2-1 deficit to beat UVU, 3-2 (21-25, 25-22, 25-23, 16-25, 13-15). With the loss, the Wolverines concluded their first season of play in the WAC with an 18-15 overall record.
"Congratulations to Seattle. It was a battle for both teams, but they were just a little bit better than we were tonight," head coach Sam Atoa said. "We felt like we had our chances but we just couldn't put things away when we had the opportunity."
Despite suffering the opening-round loss to the Redhawks (13-19), three players finished in double figures in kills for the Wolverines. First Team All-Conference performer Lauren Stringham and junior Cassie Wahlin led the way by each recording 11 kills, while All-Freshmen Team member Nakisha Willden chipped in 10. Senior setter Brookelyn Hall also had a solid match as she finished just one dig shy of a double-double in her final collegiate contest with 41 assists and nine digs, while fellow senior Katie Fritzler added six kills and three blocks in her final match as well.
After dropping the first set of the evening, 25-21, the Wolverines bounced back nicely in the second as they took an early three-point advantage. Seattle U pulled to within one a number of times, but UVU used a 5-1 run midway through the set to take an 18-13 lead. Utah Valley capitalized on four Redhawk errors during the spurt.
UVU's lead remained at five later in the second set, at 20-15, but back came Seattle U as it used a 5-0 run to tie the score at 20-all. The Wolverines answered right back, however, with three straight points of their own to take a 23-20 advantage. Utah Valley then finished off the set three points later to tie the match at 1-1. Willden led the Wolverines down the stretch with a pair of kills, while Stringham and freshman Kiahna Steiner added a kill apiece as well.
Trailing 14-11 in the third set, UVU used back-to-back kills from Wahlin and Stringham to get within one at 14-13. The frame stayed tight from there until SU scored three unanswered points to take a 20-16 advantage. The Wolverines struck right back, however, with a 4-0 run to tie the score at 20-20. Junior Kalani Norris drilled home an ace during the UVU rally while Willden added a couple of kills.
An ace from junior McKenna Tait a few moments later gave the Wolverines their first lead of the third set since the early stages of the frame at 22-21. Consecutive kills from Stringham later extended UVU's lead to 24-22, and UVU finished off the third set a point later on a Willden kill to give the Wolverines a 2-1 advantage in the match. Willden led Utah Valley with six kills in the third set.
UVU used a 5-0 run early in the fourth set to overcome an 8-5 deficit and take a 10-8 lead. SU quickly answered the Wolverine spurt, however, with an 8-1 run of its own to take a 16-11 advantage. The Redhawks controlled the frame from there as they took the fourth set by nine points to force a decisive fifth set.
Seattle's momentum carried over into the fifth set as it jumped out to a quick 4-0 advantage. The Redhawks later extended their lead to 7-2, but back came the Wolverines as they made it a two-point set at 7-5, after a kill from Norris and consecutive block assists from Fritzler and Hall and Fritzler and Norris. With UVU still within two at 9-7, SU reeled off three unanswered points to take a late 12-7 lead. With their backs against the wall trailing a 14-10 match-point deficit, the Wolverines scored three straight points to make it a 14-13 contest, but SU finished off the upset the very next point on a Wolverine attack error to take the final set, 15-13.
The contest marked UVU's eighth five-set contest of the season.
The WAC Freshman of the Year Iris Ivanis led Seattle U with a match-high 18 kills. She also added a double-double for the Redhawks as she added 11 digs.
With 10 digs to go along with her 11 kills, Wahlin posted her second double-double of the year for UVU. First Team All-Conference performer Tait also chipped in a match-high 27 digs and two service aces for the Wolverines while Norris added nine kills and 17 digs. With her two aces in the contest, Tait also tied Utah Valley's single-season school record in that category with 55 on the year.
"This was our first year in the WAC and I thought that we did all right," Atoa said. "We expected to be better (finished in a tie for third place in the regular season) but I felt like it was a good start for us and that we'll be able to build on it in the future."
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.