Clark Clifford, UVU Athletics
The Utah Valley volleyball team celebrates after knocking off the first-place UT Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros on Thursday at Lockhart Arena in Orem. The Wolverines have now won three-straight matches.

The Utah Valley University volleyball team recorded its third-consecutive victory by knocking off first-place UT Rio Grande Valley, 3-1, on Thursday evening at Lockhart Arena (22-25, 25-18, 26-24, 25-23).

After dropping the first set, UVU responded by winning the next three games en route to picking up the WAC victory. The Wolverines improve to 11-9 overall and 3-4 in WAC play, while UTRGV drops to 14-7 and 5-2 in league play.

"It was a great win," head UVU coach Sam Atoa said. "We've kind of had a hard time in those tightly contested two-point sets, but tonight we were able to take care of those and I was very proud of the girls for getting the job done. That's all that matters. ... I think this will really help build our confidence moving forward."

Kazna Tarawhiti led the way for the Wolverines offensively with 15 kills, eight digs and a trio of blocks, while Kristen Allred followed with nine kills of her own, as well as 15 digs and seven blocks. Makaila Jarema and Jasmine Niutupuivaha too played well for the Wolverines, as Jarema recorded eight kills on .467 hitting along with a match-high 11 blocks, while Niutupuivaha added seven kills on .417 hitting and three blocks. Alexis Davies also had a nice outing with eight kills on .333 hitting, while Madi Wardle chipped in a match-high 28 assists and Seren Merrill tallied a team-high 16 digs.

"Both Makaila and Jasmine did a great job for us, as our middles were very consistent," added Atoa. "To have those, along with Kazna's efforts, were big for us. They were all key for us when we closed things out there at the end."

After dropping a tightly contested opening set, Utah Valley responded by taking a 14-8 advantage in the second set following a 6-0 run. UVU later stretched its lead to 20-14 following back-to-back points on a UTRGV attack error and a Tarawhiti service ace, but back countered the Vaqueros with four unanswered points to make it 20-18. The Wolverines didn't let it set slip away, however, as they struck back with five consecutive points to take the second game, 25-18, and tie the match at 1-1. Allred led UVU down the stretch in the frame with a pair of late kills and a block.

The momentum continued to stay with UVU following the intermission break, as the Wolverines jumped out to a quick 12-5 lead after a Davies kill and a Wardle ace. Utah Valley then stretched its lead to 18-10 following consecutive kills from Kaili Downs and Tarawhiti, but back countered UT Rio Grande Valley with a 7-2 run to pull within three at 20-17. Up 22-17 after a Jarema and Downs block assist, UTRGV again struck back by scoring seven of the next nine points to deadlock the score at 24-24. The Wolverines again responded, however, with a kill from Tarawhiti followed by a block assist from Tarawhiti and Niutupuivaha to take the third set, 26-24, and a 2-1 lead in the match.

In the fourth game, the Vaqueros held an early upper hand by jumping out to an 8-6 lead. With UTRGV up 14-12, UVU then got back-to-back points from a Niutupuivaha kill and a BriAnne Mortensen ace to tie the score at 14-14. Deadlocked at 16-all, the Vaqueros then managed to drive home a trio of consecutive points to take a 19-16 advantage. The Wolverines immediately answered back with three-straight points to again tie the score at 19-19. After back-to-back UTRGV points, UVU then drove home four straight behind a pair of Tarawhiti kills to take a 23-21 lead. The Vaqueros tried to come back from there by making it a one-point set at 23-22 and again at 24-23, but final kills from the senior Davies and the junior Niutupuivaha helped the Wolverines put the set and match away.

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Despite dropping the contest, Preseason WAC Player of the Year Ragni Steen Knudsen led all players with a match-high 24 kills on .315 hitting for the Vaqueros.

The contest marked UVU's lone match of the week, as well as its first win over UTRGV in its last five tries.

The Wolverines will next head out on the road for a pair of WAC matches next weekend. UVU will first head to Las Cruces to face New Mexico State on Thursday, Oct. 18, before capping the trip with a return match against UTRGV in Edinburg on Saturday, Oct. 20.