Utah Valley University advanced to the 2018 WAC Volleyball Tournament championship with a 3-0 sweep (25-22, 25-20, 25-23) of regular-season champions the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on Friday at the Icardo Center. The trip to the finals will be the second in the last three years for the Wolverines (19-12), who are seeking their first NCAA Tournament berth. The Wolverines will face New Mexico State, 3-1 winners over UMKC on Friday night.
Kazna Tarawhiti finished with a match-high 13 kills, while Kristen Allred added 11, seven of which came in the final set. Madi Wardle had her second straight double-double of the tournament with 21 assists and 11 digs, BriAnne Mortensen added 14 assists and Seren Merrill finished with 22 digs. The Vaqueros (22-9), who became the third-straight No. 1 seed to lose in the tournament semifinals and fourth in the last five years, were led by eight kills from Barbara Silva and 24 digs from Gysell Zayas.
"We were very poised throughout the match," said UVU head coach Sam Atoa. "We controlled things both offensively and defensively, and it really disrupted what they were trying to do. We're going to just continue to play the way that we have been. We're doing some really good things right now, and it's really anybody's ballgame, but my money's on our team."
In the opening set, UVU trailed 13-11 when Jasmin Niutupuivaha recorded a kill and following a UTRGV error teamed up with Kazna Tarawhiti for a block and a 14-13 lead. It was 17-16 when another 3-0 spurt created a four-point separation. Kaili Downs and Makaila Jarema each had kills before a ball-handling error made it 20-16.
The Wolverines led by five, 23-18, when the Vaqueros scored three straight following a timeout, but the teams traded kills before Tarawhiti and Niutupuivaha teamed up again on a block to end the set in favor of UVU, 25-22.
Utah Valley trailed 9-8 in the second set when a 5-0 run gave the Wolverines a lead they held the rest of the set. Alexis Davies and Jarema both had kills and combined on a block before Tarawhiti had back-to-back kills for a 13-9 lead. UTRGV got within two, 18-16, but a service error – one of three in the set – and a Jarema kill made it 20-16. A Tarawhiti kill capped the set, 25-20, and gave the Wolverines a 2-0 advantage.
Allred had three kills as part of a 6-0 run to open the third set for the Wolverines. UVU took a five-point lead with a Davies kill, 18-13, before the Vaqueros went on a 7-1 run to take their first lead since set number two. The teams traded points until an attack error gave UVU two-straight points and a 23-22 lead. A point later, Allred finished off the sweep with consecutive kills to send UVU to Saturday's final.Comment on this story
The Wolverines had a 67 percent sideout percentage for the match and hit .217 as a team. Utah Valley also limited the WAC Offensive Player of the Year, Ragni Steen Knudsen, to seven kills. She entered the match trailing only Tarawhiti in the WAC in total kills and kills per set.
Saturday's championship begins at 7 p.m. PT, and it can be seen live on ESPN+. Utah Valley and New Mexico State split the regular season series with the Wolverines answering a four-set loss on the road against the Aggies with a five-set win in Lockhart Arena on Nov. 3.