Fresh off a 2-0 week at home last week, the Utah Valley University volleyball team heads on the road for a pair of key Western Athletic Conference matches at first-place New Mexico State and second-place UT Rio Grande Valley this weekend.
The Wolverines (12-13, 7-3 WAC), who enter the weekend tied with the Vaqueros for second place in the WAC standings, first head to Las Cruces, New Mexico, on Thursday for a 7 p.m. MT contest against the NM State Aggies (17-7, 8-2 WAC), before closing the trip at UTRGV (13-10, 7-3 WAC) in Edinburg, Texas, on Saturday at 11 a.m.
"Momentum is huge, whether you are home or away," said UVU head coach Sam Atoa. "This trip is going to be a huge challenge. The conference championship is on the line for us, as well as for our opponents. If our girls can continue to execute the way that we've been practicing, we should be in good shape."
After sweeping both then first-place CSU Bakersfield (25-14, 27-25, 25-16) and Grand Canyon (25-19, 25-17, 25-18) at home last week, Utah Valley has now won five of its last six matches to move into a tie for second place in the conference standings. During the stretch, UVU holds wins over NM State, Chicago State, UMKC, CSUB and GCU. Its lone loss was a five-set setback to Seattle U at home on Oct. 21.
In last Thursday's sweep over the Roadrunners, UVU recorded an impressive 17 total team blocks en route to setting a school record for the most team blocks in a three-set match. The Wolverines then followed that up by posting a season-high .402 hitting percentage in last Saturday's straight-set victory over GCU.
Senior Madison Dennison led the way for the Wolverines last week by averaging 3.33 kills, 2.33 blocks and an even .400 hitting percentage. Individually, Dennison put up a match-high 15 kills, seven blocks and a .440 attack percentage against the Antelopes, as well as seven more blocks, five kills and four digs versus the 'Runners. The Wolverine senior middle blocker was tabbed WAC Player of the Week for the third time on the season on Monday after her stellar showing.
Dennison, who currently leads the WAC in blocks (1.68 per set average) and hitting (.320), continues to lead the entire nation in total blocks with 160 on the season. Her 1.68 blocks per set average is also good enough to rank her fourth nationally in that category. As a team, the Wolverines also rank third nationally in total blocks (284) and ninth in blocks per set average (2.99).
About New Mexico State
NM State enters Thursday's contest leading the WAC standings with a 17-7 overall record and an 8-2 conference clip. After falling in five sets to UVU on Oct. 7, in Orem, the Aggies have since won six-straight matches, which includes an unblemished 5-0 mark in league play. New Mexico State was again picked to win the WAC this season after winning the conference title the past two seasons.
Kassandra Tohm leads the Aggies offensively with an average of 3.52 kills per set, while Lia Mosher paces the way at the net with a 1.08 blocks per set average. Ariadnne Sierra, who ranks second in the WAC and 30th nationally, leads the team in digs with an average of 5.22 per set.
Thursday's match will mark the 10th all-time contest between the Wolverines and Aggies. Despite UVU pulling out the Oct. 7 meeting, NM State enters play holding a 7-2 series lead and a perfect 4-0 mark in Las Cruces.
The Vaqueros enter the weekend with a 13-10 overall record and a 7-3 WAC clip to currently tie the Wolverines for second place. UTRGV has dropped two of its last three matches with a five-set setback to UMKC last weekend and a four-set loss to NM State on Oct. 21. UT Rio Grande Valley will first host Seattle U on Thursday before welcoming the Wolverines to town on Saturday. The Vaqueros, who won the WAC Tournament a season ago, were picked to finish second in the conference this season.
Ragni Steen Knudsen not only leads UTRGV in kills but also ranks second in the WAC with a 3.62 per set average. Bojana Mitrovic is next with a 3.08 kills per set clip, while Alexandra Ecker fronts the team at the next with a 0.97 blocks per set average.
Saturday's contest will mark the 34th all-time matchup between UVU and UTRGV. Despite dropping four of the last five meetings, Utah Valley enters play with a commanding 28-5 series lead and an 11-2 mark in Edinburg.
Up next for UVU
Following this week's trip, the Wolverines will return home for their final two matches of the 2017 regular season. UVU will first welcome UMKC to town for Senior Night on Thursday, Nov. 9, before concluding its regular season against Chicago State on Saturday, Nov. 11. The WAC Tournament will then be held the following week, Nov. 16-18, at the UTRGV Fieldhouse in Edinburg, Texas.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit GoUVU.com.