USAF ACADEMY, Colo. — It took career nights from sophomore Lauren Stringham and senior Katie Fritzler in kills on Saturday, but Utah Valley managed to outlast Air Force in five sets (18-25, 25-18, 25-19, 18-25, 15-3) at Falcon Court to win the Air Force Invitational. The Wolverines went a perfect 3-0 at the tournament with victories over AFA, Wyoming and UC Riverside.
Stringham led the Wolverines on the night with a career-best 13 kills while Fritzler added a new career-high of her own with 12. Stringham also added her first double-double of the season with 11 blocks. Senior Brookelyn Hall too had a solid match with 40 assists, seven digs and five blocks while freshman Kelcee Munk chipped in four aces, four kills, seven digs and three blocks.
With the victory, UVU will now enter its inaugural season of play in the Western Athletic Conference next week on a four-match winning streak.
"The girls played very well. It was a tough and loud environment on play in but we were able to be the better team. I was very proud of the effort that the entire team brought to the match tonight," head coach Sam Atoa said. "It was a great team effort and the girls really came together to get this one for us."
UVU wasted no time getting things going in the decisive fifth set as it burst out to a commanding 9-1 lead. The Wolverines remained on the attack from there as they quickly put the final set away at 15-3. Utah Valley recorded four blocks in the frame as well as two aces — one from junior McKenna Tait and one from Munk. The Wolverines also outhit the Falcons (3-10) a perfect 1.000 to -.455 in the decisive set.
In a tightly contested first set, the Falcons used a series of late blocks to take the opener. AFA pulled ahead late by scoring the final six points of the frame thanks to three blocks, two kills and a Wolverine service error.
With the Wolverines trailing 15-14 in the second set, a kill from Fritzler followed by an ace from Hall and a Falcon attack error gave UVU a 17-15 advantage. The Wolverines held the momentum from there as they scored seven of the final eight points to take the set by seven. Stringham and freshman Nakisha Willden led Utah Valley down the stretch as each drilled home a pair of kills.
Up 18-17 in the third, UVU used a 6-0 run to take a 24-17 set-point advantage. After two straight points from the Falcons, Willden helped the Wolverines put the frame away with a kill. Junior Kalani Norris led Utah Valley in the set with four kills and two aces while Fritzler added three kills and three blocks.
With the Wolverines leading 10-9 in the fourth set, Air Force scored the next four points to take a 13-10 advantage. The Academy held its lead from there and stretched it to as many as seven points down the stretch. Akokwe Clement and Raquel Rosas paced the Falcons in the set with four kills apiece.
Behind Stringham and Fritzler's career nights in kills, Norris added eight more for UVU while Willden chipped in seven. Clement led Air Force with 13 kills.
"The girls managed to execute when it really mattered," Atoa said. "Our middles carried us tonight. Lauren and Katie along with Brookelyn really kept us going. Our outsides didn't really have the numbers that they usually do but they too came through when it mattered the most in that fifth set."
By the time the match was over it featured 34 ties and 12 lead changes. UVU improves to 3-1 all-time against the Falcons with the victory.
The Wolverines will officially begin their inaugural season of play in the WAC at Idaho next Thursday night. UVU will then head up to Seattle from there to face Seattle U on Saturday.
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.