The Utah Valley University volleyball team locked up the three seed for next week's Western Athletic Conference Tournament with a 3-1 victory over Chicago State in its regular-season finale on Saturday afternoon at Lockhart Arena (25-27, 25-19, 25-22, 25-19).
UVU officially tied for third place in the WAC standings with a 14-15 overall record and a 9-5 conference mark with the win, while CSU finished its season with a 10-21 record and a 1-13 league record. The Wolverines, who finished the regular season tied for third with CSU Bakersfield with identical 9-5 league records, hold the tiebreaker over the Roadrunners on the way to earning the three seed for next week's league tournament.
"Today was a challenge. Chicago State played well," head UVU coach Sam Atoa said. "We really struggled trying to stop their outsides, but we were able to make some adjustments and managed to play better down the stretch. Overall we're happy that we were able to win both matches this week and earn the three seed for next week's conference tournament."
In her final home match, senior middle blocker Madison Dennison became UVU's all-time program leader in block assists with 517 for her career. Dennison, who entered the match ranked second nationally in total blocks on the year (177), posted 15 kills and six blocks in the contest. She passed former UVU great Lauren Bakker's (2012-15) previous record of 512 block assists en route to becoming the Wolverines' program leader.
"It's been a delight coaching Madison. She's a perfectionist, and I think that it kind of gets in the way at times, but I'm really proud of her," Atoa said. "She's worked really hard, especially as an undersized middle, and for her to be able to accomplish so much it's just an awesome accomplishment."
Senior Lexi Thompson had a big match for the Wolverines by leading the way with 17 kills. Senior setter Sierra Starley too played well by dishing out 50 assists, as well as recording seven digs and four kills. Fellow senior Brighton Taylor led the Wolverines at the net with a match-high seven blocks, and senior Marija Martinovic finished her final home contest with five digs and an assist.
The Wolverines jumped out to a 15-9 lead in the opening set following an 8-1 run. The Cougars then responded with a 7-2 spurt of their own to pull within one at 17-16. With UVU holding a 19-17 advantage after a Starley kill, CSU then reeled off four unanswered points to take a 21-19 lead. Trailing 24-23 and 25-24, UVU later fought off a couple of set-point advantages with a pair of clutch kills from freshman Kristen Allred, but Chicago State managed to answer by reeling off back-to-back kills from Alexandria Cliff and Carmen Carvajal to take the first set by a score of 27-25.
UVU then managed to bounce back early in the second game by jumping out to an 11-5 advantage following a trio of kills from Thompson, as well as a block and a kill from Megan Boudreaux. CSU then responded with a 6-1 run to pull within one at 12-11, but UVU later answered with three-straight points to take a 19-15 advantage. The Cougars then struck back with back-to-back points to make it 19-17, but UVU answered by scoring six of the final eight points to take the second game by a score of 25-19 and even the match at 1-1. Thompson paced Utah Valley in the set with five kills, while Boudreaux followed with four.
The Cougars countered back following the intermission break by jumping out to a 6-2 lead. UVU then responded with a kill from Alexis Davies and back-to-back kills from Dennison to pull within one at 6-5. Trailing 11-9, UVU then drove home consecutive points to tie the score at 11-all. The set, that featured 11 ties and four lead changes, then stayed tight from there. With Chicago State holding a late 21-19 advantage, Utah Valley struck back with a key 6-1 run to overcome the deficit and take the third game by a score of 25-22. Dennison and Thompson led the stretch with a pair of kills apiece.
With Utah Valley holding a 10-8 advantage in the fourth set, CSU drove home three-straight points to take an 11-10 lead. With the Cougars later leading 16-13 following a kill from Provo, Utah native and Timpview High School graduate Lauren Dela Cruz, the Wolverines answered with a decisive 8-1 run to take a 21-17 lead. UVU managed to hold its advantage from there, as it went on to take the set, 25-19, and the match, 3-1, on a final block assist from Dennison and Davies.
The Wolverines outhit the Cougars, .286 to .196, in the regular-season finale, as well as outblock them, 13-5.
Dela Cruz and Carvajal paced CSU with respective double-doubles on the day with 19 kills and 13 digs and 17 kills and 10 digs.
The Wolverines, who advanced to the WAC Tournament title match a season ago, will now head to Edinburg, Texas, for next week's WAC Championships. The tournament will run Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 16-18, at the UTRGV Fieldhouse. The third-seeded Wolverines will open the event on Thursday at 6 p.m. MT, against the sixth-seeded UMKC Kangaroos. The winner of that match will then advance to the semifinals against No. 2 UT Rio Grande Valley on Friday at 6 p.m.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit GoUVU.com.