After winning its final two matches of the regular season last week to earn the No. 3 seed for the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, the Utah Valley University volleyball team heads to Edinburg, Texas, for the 2017 WAC Tournament that will be contested Thursday through Saturday at the UTRGV Fieldhouse. UVU opens tournament play against the sixth-seeded UMKC Kangaroos on Thursday at 6 p.m. MT.
All matches of the conference tournament will air live on the WAC Digital Network, while live stats will also be available online. The winner of the event will receive the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
"We are excited to head to the WAC Tournament. The girls have been working hard as of late and we're hoping that our momentum will carry over into the tournament," head UVU coach Sam Atoa said. "Every match will be a challenge, but if we play our game then I like our chances."
Utah Valley enters this year's league tournament as the three seed after tying for third place in the regular season with a 14-15 overall record and a 9-5 conference mark. The Wolverines won their final two matches of the year at home a week ago by sweeping UMKC and pulling out a 3-1 victory over Chicago State, as well as held the tiebreaker over CSU Bakersfield.
Seniors Madison Dennison, Sierra Starley and Lexi Thompson had big outings during their final home matches for the Wolverines last week. Dennison, who became UVU's all-time leader in block assists during the regular-season finale on Saturday with 517 for her career, averaged 3.43 kills and 1.43 blocks on the week, while Thompson led the way in attacks with an average of 3.86 kills. The setter Starley averaged 12.43 assists, 2.71 digs, 0.86 kills on .545 hitting and 0.29 blocks en route to earning WAC Player of the Week honors.
Dennison not only leads the WAC and the Wolverines in blocks for the season but also enters the postseason tournament as the nation's leader in that category with a 177 during her senior campaign. Her 1.64 blocks per set average is also good enough to rank her third in the country, and her .312 hitting percentage is good enough to top the conference. As a team, UVU enters this week's action ranked fourth and 11th nationally, respectively, in total team blocks (315.5) and blocks per set average (2.92).
Thompson paces the Wolverines in kills with a 3.39 kills per set average, while the reigning WAC Player of the Week Starley is second in the conference in assists in total assists (1024) and assists per set average (9.94).
UVU all-time at the WAC Tournament
Utah Valley had its best showing in program history at the WAC Tournament a season ago by earning the two seed for the event and finishing as the tournament's runner-up after making the title match for the first time. The Wolverines dropped that contest to this year's host and potential semifinal opponent in UT Rio Grande Valley in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in straight sets. This year will mark UVU's fifth-consecutive appearance at the WAC Tournament, and the Wolverines enter the week with a 1-4 all-time record at the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
Kansas City enters the tournament as the No. 6 seed after going 9-18 on the year and 5-9 in league play. The Roos dropped their final two matches of the year and six of their last eight, after falling on the road in straight sets to UVU and Seattle U a week ago. UMKC holds WAC wins on the season over Chicago State (two), Grand Canyon, Seattle and UTRGV.
Alicia Harrington paces the Roos on the year offensively with a 3.42 kills per set average, while Mykal Sadler leads the way at the net with a 1.03 blocks per set clip.
All-time history vs. UMKC
Thursday's WAC Tournament contest against UMKC will mark the 11th all-time meeting between the Wolverines and Roos but the first neutral-site match. After winning both matches this year (3-1 in Kansas City and 3-0 in Orem), UVU now holds a 7-3 series advantage over the Kangaroos. Utah Valley has also won four of the last five meetings between the two clubs.
Up next for UVU
With a win over UMKC on Thursday, Utah Valley will advance to the tournament's semifinal round against the two-seeded and host UTRGV Vaqueros on Friday at 6 p.m. MT. The tournament's championship match will then be contested on Saturday at 6 p.m., and the winner will receive an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit GoUVU.com.