Utah State women’s volleyball remained unbeaten on the year when winning the first two sets but was tested in a five-set victory over the Air Force Academy on Saturday night. USU posted the 25-19, 25-20, 22-25, 22-25, 15-12 win to move to 15-13 on the year and 7-9 in the Mountain West and ensured a winning record at home for the 11th season under head coach Grayson DuBose.
“It was a gritty performance by both teams,” DuBose said. “Air Force, that’s who they are and that’s who we’re trying to become. After the second game, they got a lot better with serve-receive in games three and four, and it allowed them to stay in system a little bit. And then in the fifth game, they jumped out early, but we showed some composure, so that was exciting to see.”
Senior outside Lauren Anderson led the Aggies with 23 kills, eclipsing the 400-kill plateau for the season and tallying 401 on the year. The performance marks the first time since 2011 that an Aggie has recorded more than 400 kills in a season, last achieved by All-American Liz McArthur with 406 that year. Anderson also recorded 10 digs to log her team-leading 10th double-double of the year. Junior middle Lauren O’Brien and senior right side Kayla DeCoursey followed Anderson offensively with 13 kills apiece, and DeCoursey coupled that with a career-high 17 digs for her first career double-double.
Junior setter Kassidy Johnson also recorded a double-double, her fifth of the season, tallying 56 assists and 14 digs and directing the Utah State attack to a .448 (15-2-29) hitting percentage during the first set.
The Aggies also used strong play behind the service line during the opening frame as freshman middle Bailey Downing recorded three-consecutive aces, part of a career-high five service aces during the match, to spark a five-point run for Utah State, giving the home side a 10-6 lead. USU never trailed again in the set and had its first set point at 24-17. A pair of Air Force kills extended the frame for a few more rallies, but a final kill by DeCoursey put the finishing touches on the set for the Aggies, 25-19.
Utah State used another 5-1 run early in the second set to break at 5-5 tie and take a 10-6 lead. Anderson highlighted the run with three-consecutive kills, and the Aggies never looked back. USU scored three of the final four points in the frame and used kills from O’Brien and a punctuating ace by junior libero Tasia Taylor to take a 2-0 lead with the 25-20 win.
Utah State’s offense began to sputter in the third and fourth sets, opening the door for an Air Force comeback. The Aggies hit .079 (10-7-38) in the third and .125 (15-8-56) in the fourth but still looked like a three-set sweep was going to happen after coming back to tie the frame at 22-22 with a three-point run. However, the momentum didn’t hold for the Aggies, and the Falcons countered with a three-point run of their own to take the third set, 25-22.
Utah State came back from a six-point deficit in the fourth set, using a 12-4 run to take a 19-17 lead capped by an Anderson kill. The run prompted an Air Force timeout, and the Falcons came out of the break and tied the set at 20-20 and then took a 22-20 lead following a four-point run. AFA forced the decisive fifth set with back-to-back kills, taking the fourth, 25-22.
The momentum seemed to carry over from the fourth set for the Falcons as the visitors opened the set on a 4-0 run. However, with Downing back behind the service line, the Aggies put together a seven-point run, including a pair of aces from Downing, a kill by Anderson and a block from Johnson and O’Brien. The Utah State advantage never dipped below two for the rest of the set, and Anderson’s 23rd kill of the match gave the Aggies the victory, 15-12.
Anderson’s performance marked the sixth time this season that she has recorded 20 or more kills in a match. Taylor was one better on the defensive side of the ball for Utah State, recording a match-high 24 digs, her ninth contest with 20 or more digs this season.
Overall, Utah State hit .199 (62-26-181) during the match to the Falcons’ .170 (55-26-171), as AFA was led by sophomore outside hitter Denise Ssozi with team bests of 17 kills and 23 digs.
Utah State is back in action on Thursday, Nov. 16, hosting Nevada on Senior Night at 7 p.m. Prior to the match, USU will honor its four seniors in outside Rachel Gale-Hammond, middle Carly Lenzen, DeCoursey and Anderson. The Aggies will then close out the regular season on the road at San José State on Saturday, Nov. 18, at 3 p.m. MT.
Kyle Cottam is the Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations at Utah State University.