Sweet, sweet sweep of Nevada for a volleyball championship
By Wade Denniston
Saturday was a night to remember for the
Utah State University women's volleyball team as it won its first-ever
Big West Conference Eastern Division Championship at the Spectrum in
three games over the University of Nevada.
The victory not only gave Utah State its first championship, but the Aggies also set a record for most conference wins with 11, to go along five losses. USU finished the season 14-11 overall.
Three seniors, setter Lori Sargent-McKnight, middle blocker/outside hitter Heather Black and middle blocker Tiffany Kitley, all played in their final home match against Nevada -- and what a way to go out with a title.
"We've had this goal since day one and to work for it every single day of our lives for the past four months, and now it's finally here," Black said. "We've closed the chapter of our goal. We just accomplished the biggest thing. I love it."
The Aggies took control in the first game by grabbing a 4-1 lead. However, the Wolf Pack battled back to tie the game at 4.
After siding out, USU scored the next five points to open up a 9-4 lead, with junior middle blocker Denae Mohlman leading the charge with several of her blocks in the match.
Mohlman led the Aggies with a match-high .400 hitting percentage (15 kills, three errors, 30 attempts), with eight digs, two solo blocks and six block assists.
"She was hitting very well," Sargent-McKnight said.
The Aggies used another five-point run to close out the game after the Wolf Pack had crept to within 10-6. Once again, Mohlman proved to be vital as she added a block assist in the run.
Nevada (10-6 Big West, 17-11 overall), came out strong in the second game as it took a 7-3 lead, which had Peterson calling a timeout.
USU was finally able to tie it at 9. Nevada came back and took an 11-9 lead, but the Utah State answered with a five-point run to go ahead 14-11.
A timeout by Nevada thwarted the momentum swing and the Wolf Pack sided out, and scored the next four points to regain the lead.
"It got a little hairy," Sargent-McKnight said. "When we were up 14-11, I knew we were going to win and then they came back, and I just had a feeling that everything was OK. We are a great side-out team and I knew that we were going to put the ball down and win. There was no way we were going four games."
A Mohlman kill returned the serve back to the Aggies and they notched the game-winning point on another Mohlman kill.
"That was a big-time comeback," Peterson said. "We made a few mistakes. We kind of let up a little bit, you could tell that we relaxed and we came back, that was big."
The Aggies opened the scoring in the third game as they surged out to an 8-3 advantage. A determined Wolf Pack team, the Eastern Division Champions last year, closed the gap to 11-8, but would come no closer than that.
USU notched its 14th point on another Mohlman kill and ended their storybook regular season with an Amy Goulding-Crosbie kill.
The junior outside hitter Goulding-Crosbie added a double-double for Utah State with 12 kills and 12 digs.
USU dominated nearly every facet of the match as it outhit (.217-.102) and outblocked (16.5-8) Nevada.
"When we were blocking, we were the superior team, and we did it at the right time to beat them," Peterson said. "I don't think that they were really prepared. I assume we surprised them by how well we blocked."
USU had a record-setting 1,093 fans to witness the monumental feat, breaking the mark of 841 set on Oct. 12, 1998, vs. Brigham Young University.
"I'd like to thank the crowd," Peterson said.
USU will now prepare to meet Western Division Champion fifth-ranked University of the Pacific on Saturday in Stockton, Calif. UOP defeated sixth-ranked Long Beach State University in four games Saturday night.
"If we play like we did tonight," Black said, "then we really have
a chance. We have a shot at it. We're just going to play our hearts
out and hope that the result is just as good."