Clark Clifford, UVU Athletics
Utah Valley junior middle blocker Jasmine Niutupuivaha (front, left-center) goes for an attack at UVU's Lockhart Arena against New Mexico State on Nov. 3. On Saturday, Niutupuivaha tallied six kills at Chicago State.

Utah Valley University volleyball locked up a spot at the 2018 WAC Tournament with a 3-0 sweep over Chicago State on Saturday morning at the Jacoby Dickins Center in Chicago (25-18, 25-19, 25-23).

As a team, UVU outhit the Cougars, .238 to .080, en route to recording the league victory.

The Wolverines improve to 15-12 overall and 7-7 in WAC play with the victory, while the Cougars drop to 9-22 and 3-11 in conference play with the setback. The win avenges an earlier season loss in the full five sets to CSU in Orem. Both teams will have just two regular-season matches remaining next week.

"It was a great team effort. After a tough loss at UMKC, the team came out with great energy and executed well," head UVU coach Sam Atoa said. "We were without Kristen Allred today, and Bailey Nixon stepped right in and played very well. Our middles also had strong performances and our setters did a nice job of giving them those balls, as well as to our right sides. Everyone contributed, and I am very pleased with their efforts and the urgency that they showed to put the match away."

Kazna Tarawhiti again paced the Wolverine attack with a match-high 13 kills on .235 hitting. Bailey Nixon followed with a career-high eight kills, while both Makaila Jarema and Jasmine Niutupuivaha added six kills apiece. Jarema also led UVU at the net with five blocks, while Madi Wardle notched another double-double with 19 assists and 12 digs and Seren Merrill led the way from the back row with an impressive match-high tally of 25 digs in just three sets.

In the opening set, the home Cougars held the early advantage by jumping out to a 12-8 advantage. With CSU later leading 15-13, UVU managed to score back-to-back points thanks to a Tarawhiti ace and a kill to tie the score at 15-15. With the Cougars later holding an 18-17 advantage, Utah Valley then made its move by reeling off an 8-1 run to take the opening set by a score of 25-19. Kaili Downs had a pair of blocks and kill during the stretch for UVU, while Jarema added two kills and a block.

With the Wolverines holding a 12-10 second-set advantage, UVU drove home a trio of consecutive points to extend its lead to 15-10. After three-straight points from the Cougars, Utah Valley countered back with a 5-1 run to extend its lead to 20-14. Tarawhiti drove home a pair of kills and a block during the spurt. The Wolverines managed to hold their lead from there, as they went on to take the second set by a score of 25-18. Nixon, who was playing in the absence of Kristen Allred, played well down the stretch of the second set for UVU with two late kills.

In a tightly contested third set that featured ties and lead changes, CSU took a 12-9 lead following a Beatriz Palmieri service ace, but back responded UVU with three-straight points to again tie the score at 12-12. The Cougars again rallied to pull ahead 17-13 after back-to-back kills from Provo native and Timpview High School graduate Lauryn Dela Cruz, but Utah Valley later bounced back with three unanswered points to make it a one-point set at 18-17. After a CSU point made it 19-17, UVU responded with five-consecutive points to give the Wolverines a late 22-19 lead. Nixon led the late spurt for UVU with a pair of kills and a block. Chicago State then responded to score four of the next five to deadlock the score at 23-23, but UVU struck back with a clutch Tarawhiti kill followed by a CSU attack error to finish off the sweep.

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With the victory, the Wolverines have now won four of their last five matches to lock up a berth to the 2018 WAC Tournament by securing a top-seven finish WAC regular-season play.

CSU's Dela Cruz led all players in the contest with a match-high 16 kills.

UVU will now return home for its final two matches of the regular season. The Wolverines will first host CSU Bakersfield on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 6 p.m., before closing against Grand Canyon on Saturday at 1 p.m. Saturday's contest will mark Senior Day for Utah Valley. The 2018 WAC Tournament will then be held Nov. 22-24, in Bakersfield, California.