Finishing is a must, and the Aggie volleyball team did just that Saturday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
Utah State shrugged off a tough setback in the first set against visiting UNLV and created a logjam near the top of the Mountain West Conference standings. The Aggies took care of the Rebels in four, 24-26, 25-22, 25-21, 25-18, in front of 1,268 fans.
“We love being at home, we love the Spectrum,” said USU opposite side hitter Elle Brainard, who slammed home a career-high 21 kills in the match. “... It was just great tonight.”
With the victory, the Aggies (14-7, 7-3 MW) are tied with UNLV, Fresno State and New Mexico for second in the league standings. No. 12 Colorado State is still undefeated and atop the standings.
The win Saturday was also the fifth straight for USU, which has won nine of its last 12 matches.
“We’re excited about how we are doing and the support we are getting,” Aggie head coach Grayson DuBose said.
Against the Rebels (12-8, 7-3), who had a two-match winning streak snapped, Brainard had plenty of help. For just the second time this season the Aggies had four players record double figures in kills. Joining Brainard were Rachel Orr (14), Tumua Etimani (12) and Kaitlyn VanHoff (10).
“I thought our distribution was good,” DuBose said. “They were kind of second guessing where we were going.”
Brainard was consistent throughout the evening, recording at least five kills in every set.
“I thought Elle did a great job with that matchup,” DuBose said. “It was favorable for her and worked out well for her where she could go make nice, high attacks. Especially in the second and third games, I thought she did a really nice job.”
And how did Brainard see her match?
“It was fun,” Brainard said. “Paige (Neves) and I had a connection tonight. ... We were just rolling.”
Sharing the spotlight with Brainard in having a milestone match were setter Paige Neves and libero Ashlan Rogers-Court. Neves finished with 58 assists, which ties her career high for a match. Rogers-Court had a match-best 23 digs and became just the fifth Aggie to clear the 1,000 plateau for career digs.
“It’s cool and fun,” Rogers-Court said of reaching the milestone.
Rogers-Court now has 1,021 digs and needs just three more to move into a tie for fourth on the career list.
“She’s worked hard to make herself a better passer and a better leader,” DuBose said of Rogers-Court. “It’s always come naturally for her, so it was only a matter of time. It’s good to have her eclipse that mark. It’s a testament to her work ethic and her teammates.”
Five Aggies recorded double figures in digs. Joining Rogers-Court were Neves (15), Orr (15), Etimani (12) and Hannah Gleason (11).
The opening set featured 17 ties and eight lead changes. USU was serving for the set, but UNLV’s Sekola Falemaka, who is from Granstville and had a vocal cheering section at the Spectrum, came up with back-to-back kills. The Rebels scored three straight to take the set.
“That was tough to lose that first game, but it kind of just fueled our fire a little bit more,” Brainard said. “We just had a lot of passion tonight.”
However, the Aggies bounced back and took a 5-0 lead to begin the second set. The Rebels would eventually rally and take a 21-16 lead.
Brainard sparked a 6-0 run with a kill to finish off the set for the hosts. Carly Lenzen came on and was part of three blocks during that stretch and drew praise from the coach and her teammates.
“As a team, we just really wanted to win this match,” Rogers-Court said. “... That (end of the second set) was a huge momentum swing. That helped carry us the rest of the match for sure.”
In the third set, the Aggies fell behind 8-2. USU clawed back and once again used a 6-0 surge late in the set to take charge. VanHoff finished it off with a kill.
In the fourth, it was all Aggies. USU jumped out to a 7-1 lead and built a 20-9 advantage when Neves and VanHoff teamed up for a block. UNLV tried to rally, getting within 24-18. However, Orr finished the match with a kill.
“Everything came together in the fourth,” Brainard said.