LOGAN, Utah — Needing a win to keep pace in the crowded Mountain West standings, Utah State volleyball put together a complete performance for a 3-1 victory over Air Force on Thursday night, despite a less-than-complete roster.
“It’s good to get a win. Excited to be back,” head coach Rob Neilsen said. “We’re getting battle-tested here. We’ve got some injuries going on. So we had some people come in and step up and do a great job. It’s fun to see.”
USU started the match firing on all cylinders. Facing a 6-4 deficit in the first set, the Aggies answered with a 12-2 run to take a commanding lead and coast to a 25-14 victory. The Aggies rolled their momentum into the second set, utilizing a 6-1 run to take a 13-9 lead near the halfway point. After maintaining a three- to four-point lead for several rotations, a 4-1 burst late in the set ultimately secured the 25-19 victory to put USU up 2-0 in the contest.
A spirited effort from the Falcons spurred Air Force to a 19-12 lead in the third set. With spirit of their own, the Aggies clawed back into the set with a 5-0 run. USU eventually trimmed the lead to a single point on multiple occasions but were unable to fully reel in the Falcons in a 25-23 third-set loss.
“I thought we executed pretty well,” coach Neilsen said. “We did a nice job in serve and pass and we really challenged them. We forced them into some shots that they didn’t want to hit. And then they answered and they really kind of pushed back and were really aggressive from the service line in sets three and four.”
Despite USU jumping out to a 4-1 lead to start the fourth set, it was Air Force who looked to force a fifth set after taking a 14-9 lead. The Aggies stormed back with an immediate 4-0 run powered by three consecutive service aces by sophomore Tatum Stall. Air Force persisted, maintaining a 19-16 lead before Utah State closed with a 9-2 run to win the fourth set 25-21 and the overall match 3-1.
“I was just going back to the basics and just focusing on my contact on the ball and just the movement,” Stall said. “That’s how you get the aces… I really think that that pushed our momentum in the fourth set and that’s what we needed.”
Facing a slew of injuries, multiple Aggies stepped up to fill the void. Stall led USU with 19.5 total points, including 13 kills, five block assists and tying her career-high with four service aces. Senior Kristy Frank posted a team-leading 15 kills alongside seven digs. Freshman Beatriz Rodrigues posted her second double-double of the season with 24 assists and a team-best, and career-high, 15 digs. Sophomore Abby Peterson narrowly missed a double-double of her own with 10 digs and nine assists on the night. Senior Corinne Larsen and sophomore Inka Mehtola each put up six total blocks on the night, a key component of the Aggies holding Air Force to a .090 hitting percentage on the night, the second-lowest figure from a Utah State opponent this season.
“We definitely have people on the bench that can pick up all of the slack that we’re missing,” Stall said. “We’re just working really hard and we’re just working on our confidence to be comfortable with those people coming in off the bench. We just have a tough road ahead of us with New Mexico, but we’re excited… It doesn’t take long to be comfortable with the people that are coming in off the bench. We’re in a good spot.”
With the victory, the Aggies maintained their tiebreaker edge over San Jose State for second place in the Mountain West standings. Utah State has little time to catch their breath, however, as the Aggies face a crucial match on Saturday versus fourth-place New Mexico. USU lost the first meeting versus the Lobos, 3-2, earlier this season in Albuquerque.
“They’re a really good team,” Stall said. “They have really powerful hitters. But we just have to be really disciplined on the block and win serve-receive just like (coach Neilsen) always says.”
Saturday’s match is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 6, at 1 p.m. at the Wayne Estes Center in Logan.
Fans can follow the Aggie volleyball program on Twitter, @USUVolleyball, on Facebook at /USUVolleyball or on Instagram, @usuvolleyball. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program on Twitter, @USUAthletics, Facebook at /USUAthletics and on Instagram, @USUAthletics.