SUU volleyball hopeful to make the Conference Tournament

Southern Utah University volleyball was projected to be 12th in the Western Athletic Conference in the preseason poll but entered in eighth this week. Last season, the Thunderbirds finished with a conference record of 2-14 that placed them last in the Big Sky Conference. 

Thunderbirds versus Redhawks
On Thursday, Oct. 20, the Thunderbirds took on the Seattle University Redhawks for the first time in the regular season. In set one of the match, Reagan Beeson scored two of the first four points for the Thunderbirds, helping them take a demanding 4-0 lead to start the set. Macy Short scored or assisted on six consecutive points to take the match lead 1-0. 

In the second set, Sarah Gasper scored four out of five straight points, allowing the Thunderbirds to jump out to a 9-2 lead. As the game went back and forth, Beeson came up big once again, scoring the final two points to take a 2-0 lead in the match.

In the match-winning set, the Thunderbirds started off slow, but four consecutive points from Short turned the game around 12-10. Molly McDermott finished the game off with a three-point run of her own to lead the Thunderbirds to victory over the Redhawks. The win moved Southern Utah University to a 5-12 record on the season.

Thunderbirds versus Wolverines
The Thunderbirds had a challenging match against the Utah Valley University Wolverines on Saturday, Oct. 22. Entering the match with a 7-1 record against conference opponents, the Wolverines are second in the WAC standings. 

With a strong 5-1 run by the Wolverines to start the opening set, the Thunderbirds were in for a tough battle. McDermott tied the set at eight as the Thunderbirds stormed back. A 6-1 run gave the Thunderbirds their first lead after a couple of errors by the Wolverines and a pair of kills from Andreanna McKee and Short. The Wolverines battled back to tie the match at 20 and eventually took the set 25-22.

The second set had the Wolverines off to another commanding start by creating a four-point lead early at 8-4. The Thunderbirds evened the score at ten, then Rylee Achtzehn took over the set, scoring four straight kills and bringing the Thunderbirds to a 25-22 victory

Another strong start by the Wolverines had the Thunderbirds trailing 6-2 in the third set. A resurgence by the Thunderbirds was capped off by Makenzie Templeton, who tied the game at seven with a kill. By the halfway point, the Wolverines were back on top after a 9-2 run. A late run by the Thunderbirds fell short as the Wolverines took the set 25-22.  

Achtzehn continued her dominance with three kills that led the Thunderbirds to an early 8-6 lead. However, the Wolverines proved why they are one of the best teams in the WAC with an 11-point run that led the team to a dominant 25-15 set win and a 3-1 match victory. 

Playoff picture
With a conference record of 4-5, the Thunderbirds have an opportunity to make it to the playoffs. The Thunderbirds are now seventh in the WAC after winning three out of their last five games.

Last year’s tournament hosted eight teams in a single-elimination match format. Currently, the eighth place Utah Tech University Trailblazers will face the rank one University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros. The seventh place Thunderbirds will face in-state rival Utah Valley University Wolverines, who are currently ranked second. 

The Stephen F. Austin State University Ladyjacks hold third place and will battle the sixth-ranked New Mexico State University Aggies. The fourth-ranked University of Texas at Arlington Mavericks are slated to play the fifth-place Grand Canyon University Antelopes. Teams that are ranked fourth through twelfth are all within three games of each other. With five games left in the season, there is still plenty of time for the playoff standings to be shaken up.          

The Thunderbirds are set to face three teams that are all within one game of each other in the Conference standings as they aim to sweep the Utah Tech Trailblazers this season Saturday, Oct. 29, at 1 p.m. in St. George, Utah. 

A two-game home stand will feature Grand Canyon University on Thursday, Nov. 3, at 6 p.m., who is currently 5-4 in WAC play.

California Baptist University is currently ninth, which puts them just outside the WAC playoff tournament. The game will be on Saturday, Nov. 5, at 1 p.m., with huge playoff implications for both teams.  

Article by: Chevy Blackburn
Photos by: SUU Athletics