The opening weekend of volleyball was a learning experience for Utah State.

The Aggies hosted their own Invitational last Friday and Saturday. They were kind hosts, dropping all three of their matches.

However, progress was made. That was evident on Saturday when USU took on Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds had swept both Xavier and Eastern Michigan on Friday, while the Aggies lost to both the Eagles and Musketeers in five and four sets, respectively.

USU pushed SUU to five sets. In the end, the Thunderbirds took the match, 25-13, 19-25, 18-25, 25-19, 15-9.

“I think we’re getting better,” USU head coach Grayson DuBose said. “We’re learning how to compete. We’re learning how to play with different lineups. We’ve changed the lineup around quite a bit the last couple of days. Lots of kids are getting opportunities to show us what they can do. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re headed in the right direction.”

On Friday, the Aggies held a 2-1 lead against Eastern Michigan and were serving for the match in the fourth set. The Eagles rallied to win.

While USU held a 2-1 lead against SUU, the Thunderbirds took control in the fourth and kept rolling in the fifth to stay perfect on the young season.

The Aggies seemed more determined Saturday and fought to dig more balls. That was a welcome sight for the coach.

“There are some good things we can take away from this match to build on,” DuBose said. “... We had couple of kids injured and a couple of kids sick, so it’s just the way it ended up with the lineups.”

The Aggies played the majority of the match with three freshmen.

“We are young in some spots, but they are good volleyball players,” DuBose said. “They should be able to adapt. We did not adjust to No. 10 (Stacey Hone) on the right side. She got away from us just a little bit. We had her in check, then it got away towards the end.”

Hone finished with 18 kills, while her teammate Shannon Webb recorded a match-best 21 kills.

USU was led by middle blocker Corinne Larsen, who had a career-high 12 kills. Madi Brunatti added 11 finishers. The Aggies tallied one more dig than the Thunderbirds, 71-70, led by a match-high 27 from freshman libero Grace DuBay. USU also had one more block than SUU, finishing the match with seven.

Junior middle blocker Bailey Downing represented the Aggies on the all-tournament team. She started all 14 sets on the weekend, finishing with 23 kills and eight blocks.

“I liked the fact that we were able to set our middles and they got some kills going,” DuBose said. “That setter-hitter relationship is a work in progress for us. I thought our middles did a really nice job.”

Up next for the Aggies (0-3) are the red-hot Utes (3-0). Utah is coming off upsets of No. 7 Kentucky (3-0) and No. 23 Cal Poly (3-2) to open the season. Utah visits USU on Tuesday with the match scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in the Estes Center.

“They (Utes) are pretty good team,” DuBose said. “It will be a good measuring stick for our program.”

Outside hitter Kenzie Koerber leads the Utah attack as she hit .315 over the weekend, averaging 3.55 kills per set. As a team, the Utes are hitting .191. Utah is averaging 4.18 blocks per set, led by middle blocker Berkeley Oblad, who averaged 2.09 blocks per set in the team’s three wins. Setter Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres is averaging 9.82 assists per set.

As a team, the Aggies are hitting .151, led by Larsen, who is hitting .233 on the year. Setter Heidi Carpenter is averaging 8.36 assists per set, while Downing has a team-high eight blocks.

There is a long history between USU and Utah, but Tuesday will be the first meeting since 2016. The Utes lead the all-time series, 46-25, where the Aggies are 10-18 in matches played in Logan. Utah has won the last five contests, with USU’s last victory coming in 2010.

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Shawn Harrison is the sports editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at sharrison@hjnews.com or 435-792-7233.

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