It was a precarious moment for the UVU volleyball team and its title hopes.
Although the No. 3-seeded Wolverines led the WAC semifinal match against No. 2-seed Grand Canyon at Lockhart Arena in Orem two sets to one, the score was tied at 25-25 and the Antelopes were on the attack, hoping to put themselves in position to force a deciding fifth set.
Fittingly, however, it was the UVU defense that rose to the challenge.
Wolverine sophomore Tori Dorius (who is 6-foot-4) and freshman Ke’ilani Sedrick (who is 5-foot-3) got up to stuff a middle attack by Grand Canyon, giving UVU the lead.
An Antelope hitting error on match point — possibly influenced by the effectiveness of the Wolverine block throughout the contest — gave the Wolverines the 3-1 win (19-25, 25-23, 25-23, 27-25) and put UVU in the WAC championship match for the third time in school history.
“We expected it to be a battle,” Wolverine head coach Sam Atoa said on a teleconference after the match. “We call situations like that our warrior moments. It’s who is going to step up. And today we felt like that we took care those.”
Atoa said that the big block in the fourth set was something UVU had prepared for.
“I was really proud of Tori,” Atoa said. “We knew in situations like that, they were going to set the ball in the middle. Tori just kind of stepped in and read it right. She was able to kind of take that. Ka’ilani was nowhere near the top of the net but what mattered is that Tori stepped in and did what she had to do.”
It was the 17th block of the match for the Wolverines and Atoa said they “needed all 17 of them.”
“Throughout the week, we’ve been working on just our eye work and being able to see things,” Atoa said. “We knew they had a very good attack. I felt like that as long as we had the timing right that we would have our chances.”
He was also quick to point out that the other part of the UVU defensive effort behind the block was incredibly important as well.
“I think it wasn’t just what we did at the net but we also had 68 digs,” Atao said. “Seren Jardine (a senior libero/defensive specialist) had 33 of those and that kept us in the game. It allowed us to be able to get more opportunities to convert. She was huge tonight for us.”
After falling behind early and losing the first set, the Wolverines came out better organized in Set 2. UVU scored four of its first five points on blocks, allowing the Wolverines to build a big lead.
UVU appeared to be in complete control as it was up 24-15, only to see the Antelopes score eight straight points to put the pressure on.
“I felt like we were in a pretty good position and we passed the ball well, but we just made just too many mistakes,” Atoa said. “When it starts getting to that point, I think then you’re starting to play cautious. Give them credit on being able to see the right things defensively and do what they needed to do. What mattered was that we were still able to stay composed.”
The Wolverines did what they’ve done all season and went to senior Kazna Tanuvasa, who got the kill to secure the set win for UVU.
She did the same thing in Set 3, finishing off another close, hard-fought frame with a kill. Tanuvasa, the 2021 WAC Player of the Year, finished with a match-high 16 kills.
Those key points put the Wolverines in position to close things out in the fourth set. Grand Canyon stopped a pair of match points and had a set point opportunity before a net violation tied things up and set the stage for Dorius’s big block.
The win put UVU in the WAC title game, a position the Wolverines were in back in 2016 and 2018. The Wolverines lost in the finals both times, however, but Atoa is excited to see his squad get another shot.
“It’s special, for sure,” Atoa said. “Amongst all the craziness that’s going on, I felt like that our team really stayed focused, both on the court and off the court, and made the right adjustments we needed to. I’m excited for them. We worked really really hard to kind of get to this point. We’ll savor this one a little bit, but we’re going to then focus on New Mexico State because they’re a very good team. Hopefully we’ll be able to have the mindset and the physical abilities to do it again tomorrow.”
The Wolverines are scheduled to face the top-seeded Aggies in the championship at Lockhart Arena in Orem on Saturday at 2 p.m.