Sunday, November 20, 2022

WAC Tournament Final Recap: SFA 3, Utah Valley 1

 Edinburg, TX - SFA Volleyball will return to the NCAA Volleyball Tournament for the third time in a five year span after the 'Jacks defeated the Wolverines of Utah Valley University in the 2022 WAC Tourney finale.  SFA finished off the match in four sets (25-12, 25-22, 20-25, 25-23) and was led by the tournament's most outstanding player Junior RS Ielan Bradley.  Bradley earned the official honor after following up her 18-kill semifinal performance with 17 more against Utah Valley while hitting a stratospheric .469 on 32 swings.  Freshman middle blocker Izabella Ortiz and junior libero Haley Hoang joined Ortiz on the All-Tournament team.

The 'Jacks started fast in the first set getting two kills by Bradley along with two Wolverine service errors to stake an early 5-2 lead.  When second setter and freshman Jayden Flynn and senior right side Payton Cerny made their first sub into the 'Jacks 6-2 offense they each made an instant impact.  In her first trip across the front row, Cerny had four kills to pad SFA's lead to 9-5.  The right-side offense and service pressure by the 'Jacks smothered the Wolverines as the set got out of hand after Hoang and freshman outside hitter Camryn Hill each went on long service runs.  When Hill was finally sided out by her own service error, the 'Jacks had completed a 8-3 run and held a 19-10 advantage in the set. Utah Valley would score only twice more in the runaway frame that saw the Wolverine setters only post three total assists.  SFA would win the first set 25-12 as Utah Valley was never able to consistently run their offense due the service pressure applied by SFA.

Set 2 was tighter as early in the set the teams were tied at all of 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8.  Two kills by Bradley, another by senior Ariana Pagan and a Utah Valley hitting error by right side Tori Dorius gave SFA the 12-10 advantage near the half-way point of the set.  After the Wolverines got a kill from Kalea Kennedy to get within one again, SFA went on a 5-1 run to open up some space behind the serving of Flynn.  Flynn continued her season long serving onslaught in the match running her yearly ace total all the way up to 48 by posting three total on the night.  The Flynn service hold got the score to 16-12 in favor of the 'Jacks. SFA's left side attack then began to balance out the massive offensive production from the right pin as both Pagan and Hill added terminations to up the score to 19-13. Utah Valley wasn't dead at that point as middle blocker Caleigh Vagana blocked two SFA attacks and squeezed in a kill of her own to bring the Wolverines to within two at 19-17. The teams traded left-side offense as Kazna Tanuvasa - who was held down in the first set - began to get hot, scoring multiple times down the stretch in Set 2.  With SFA clinging to a small two point lead at 22-20, Camryn Hill errored, but then SFA got two straight points on a Bradley kill and a Kennedy error.  That made it 24-21, but Tanuvasa got one last set kill before Bradley ended it to give the Ladyjacks a 2-0 lead at the long break.

Set 3 was also close throughout as Tanuvasa continued to put the Wolverines on her shoulders.  While she and Dorius got early kills in the set, Jayden Flynn again applied service pressure to build a 6-3 lead. When Flynn aced Freshman of the Year Avery Shewell for Utah Valley she was finally sent to the bench in favor of passing help from Haley Cuff.  Shewell would not return in the match and finished with just three total kills while hitting -.067.  The move to Cuff worked as Utah Valley knotted up the set at 8-8 and eventually took the lead by a score of 11-10 after a Pagan error was followed by another Tanuvasa strike.  During the middle of the set the teams traded mini-runs with four straight points by the Wolverines being countered by three straight for SFA. But then SFA got error prone as each of Bradley, Cerny and Ortiz missed on shots and Cuff got a kill to give Utah Valley a lead with the score 20-16. The Wolverine lead swelled to six as each of Kennedy, Tanuvasa and middle blocker Makayla Broadbent threw down kills. That made the score 23-17 and while SFA would add on a few more tallies from Wolverine service errors, the third frame ended with another Kennedy kill - her final total on the night ending at 8.

With the set score at 2-1, Set 4 saw SFA come right back and apply some early pressure creating a 7-3 early lead behind two kills from Bradley and one a piece from each of Hill and Cerny. Broadbent brought Utah Valley back with strong serving to get the SFA lead down to one, 8-7.  Utah Valley continued to rebound tying the score at 9-9, 10-10 and again at 11-11 using kills from Dorius and Vagana. A 'Jacks service error and a Utah Valley ace by libero Bryton Nixon gave Utah Valley the lead briefly at 13-11. SFA fought back with another Bradley winner and focing Tanuvana to error getting the score even at 13.  The serving of Flynn, then Hill and finally Ortiz each held just long enough to allow the 'Jacks to create some space earning a 19-15 lead. Cuff got a kill and block assist to bring Utah Valley closer, but Pagan got SFA first to 20 in the set with her 10th and final kill of the match.  Pagan then served the 'Jacks to a 23-19 lead all while Wolverine star outside hitter Kazna Tanuvasa got stuck in the back row. A Tori Dorius kill finally got Tanuvasa to click around to front left with the score 23-20.  Dorius struck again and then Utah Valley found Tanuvasa for a kill and the Wolverines were within one.  With the score 23-22, the 'Jacks found Ielan Bradley on the right pin to gain match point.  Bradley tried to end it in the next rally but was stuff blocked by Tanuvasa and Vagana.  At 24-23, Camryn Hill was able to end a back-and-forth rally by glancing a shot off the left side Wolverine block that fell just outside the sideline to seal the Ladyjack win 25-23 and the match three sets to one.

Overall, SFA hit .252 and Utah Valley hit .211.  SFA out-blocked the Wolverines 11-9 and held a narrow total kill count edge at 55-50.  Each team had five aces.  In addition to Bradley's 17 kills, SFA got 11 from Cerny, 10 from Pagan and seven from Ortiz.  Hoang and Pagan led in digs with 11 and ten, respectively.  Ortiz' six blocks were a match high on either side.  Utah Valley got 16 kills from Tanuvasa and eight a piece from Kennedy and Dorius.  Setter Abbie Miller posted a double-double with 19 assists and a team high 13 digs.

SFA will await their opponent in the 2022 NCAA Tournament which will be announced at 6:30 PM CT on the NCAA Selection Show which will air on Sunday, November 27.  When the 'Jacks travel for their first round match-up it will be the Ladyjacks eighth appearance in the Big Dance over their team history.