The Utah Valley University volleyball team dropped into a tie for third place in the WAC standings with a 3-0 setback (23-25, 20-25, 15-25) to first-place New Mexico State on Thursday evening at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
UVU (12-14, 7-4 WAC) falls two games back of the first-place Aggies (18-7, 9-2 WAC) with the defeat and one game back of second-place UT Rio Grande Valley (14-10, 8-3 WAC), which the Wolverines face on Saturday.
"We just didn't play well," UVU head coach Sam Atoa said. "You've got to hand it to New Mexico State; they outplayed us in all areas of the game. They really did a nice job of taking advantage of any opportunities that they were able to create. It's unfortunate, but we'll have to figure out a few things and look to bounce back on Saturday."
Despite suffering the defeat, Lexi Thompson led UVU with a team-high 13 kills, while Madison Dennison and Izzie Hinton each chipped in six. The nation's leading blocker and reigning WAC Player of the Week Dennison also added a match-best four blocks, while Sierra Starly and Seren Merrill led the way in assists and digs with 29 and 15, respectively.
In a tightly contested opening set, NM State used a 3-0 spurt to break a 10-all tie and take a 13-10 lead. UVU countered right back with back-to-back points on an Alexis Davies kill and an NMSU attack error to pull within one. With the Aggies later holding a 16-13 advantage, the Wolverines answered with a 4-1 run to tie the score at 17-17. Starley led the spurt with a service ace. The score then seesawed back and forth from there until NMSU managed to score three of the final four points to take the third game by a score of 25-23.
With the second set squared up at 8-8 following a kill from Hinton, NMSU managed to reel off a 5-0 spurt to take a 13-8 advantage. Following consecutive UVU points that came from an NMSU service error and a block assist from Dennison and Davies, the Aggies responded with three unanswered points to take a 16-10 lead. With NM State later holding a 24-16 set-point advantage, the Wolverines struck back with four-consecutive points to make it 24-20. But the deficit proved to be too much, as the Aggies answered with a kill from Kassandra Tohm to take the set, 25-20, and a 2-0 lead in the match.
NM State continued to hold the upper hand early in the third set, as it jumped out to a quick 7-3 advantage. The Wolverines struck back, though, by scoring four of the next five points to pull within one at 8-7. Dennison and Kristen Allred led the spurt with a kill apiece. Still trailing by a point at 9-8, the Aggies then drove home a trio of points to take a 12-8 lead. Down 14-11 following an Allred kill, NMSU scored eight-consecutive points to take a commanding 22-11 advantage. Still trailing by 11 at 23-12, UVU drove home three-straight points to make it 23-15, but it wasn't enough as NMSU answered with the final two points of the match to finish off the sweep.
Tohm paced the Aggies in the match with 13 kills, while Tatyana Battle added a double-double with 10 kills and 15 digs.
The 3-0 defeat marked just UVU's fourth straight-set setback on the year, while the victory marked NM State's seventh-consecutive win and its 12th-straight victory at the Pan American Center.
The Wolverines will now head on to Edinburg, Texas, for a battle for second place against UT Rio Grande Valley. UVU's final road match of the regular season will begin at 11 a.m. MT, and air live on the WAC Digital Network. Following Saturday's road finale, Utah Valley will return home to host UMKC for Senior Night on Thursday, Nov. 9, and Chicago State in its regular-season finale on Saturday, Nov. 11. The WAC Volleyball Tournament will then be contested 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.