Forty minutes prior to the match Saturday, the Gonzaga volleyball team took the floor for pregame warmups. Six of those players had banners hanging in the Martin Centre as well as friends and family galore in the stands. Those six players — seniors — looked loose and relaxed just as if it were just another match.
But five minutes before game time, their family and friends came onto the court for a special pregame ceremony. The tears began to well up. Emotions ran high, but the team settled down and put in a solid performance.
The final home match for the seniors ended with a 3-1 win over the St. Mary’s Gaels, evening their record in four-set matches to 3-3 on the season.
Looking back, head coach Diane Nelson pointed out a few factors that gave them wins earlier this season.
“We knew that their serving was going to allow their blocking to be good and when it was good, they’re good,” she said. “We had to be better than them in serve receive and our blocks outmatched theirs.”
The Zags didn’t just squeak by with more blocks; they had 15, while the Gaels only had 5 - St. Mary’s never seemed fully comfortable throughout the match.
It was the end of an era for the six seniors who will give way to a roster with only one junior. It was a special moment for the players who helped reinvent the success of the volleyball team.
“From the beginning they were on a mission and they set out to lead this team all the way through and their maturity, their resilience, strength and their courage has been a true foundation for this group,” Nelson said.
Nelson, who has been with the program for six seasons (first season as head coach), helped recruit this group and has seen the progress of the team in those years.
Senior Emmy Allen had to keep her emotions in check - they had been trying to break out since earlier in the morning.
“I don’t even know how to put it into words, there is so much emotion that I am just trying to keep in because if I let it out, I would have been balling the whole game,” she said.
Senior McKayla Ferris said she has also loved the journey and was happy to play her final home game in front of so many familiar faces.
“It has been an emotional roller coaster because you are so happy all of these people you love and cherish are here in one place and you get to play the game you love in front of them, but it was bittersweet because it is the last time you’ll be able to do this,” she said.
It was the final kill for the Bulldogs and it came off the hand of Allen who finished off the game with force.
“I had in the back of my head, this could be the last swing I take in this court so I wanted to make it good,” she said.
The crowd erupted and the rest of the team stormed the court to celebrate the win.
Not so top play
Two points before that, Ferris attempted a jump serve, which if it landed, would have been a phenomenal play.
It slammed into the net leading to a feeling of trepidation for the senior.
“If it would have worked, it would have great, but it didn’t ,so I might have to take some of the coach’s wrath on that one,” Ferris said.
Coach Nelson did concede that she told the seniors to just let it go and have fun, because this was the last shot. While she didn’t give the green light in that particular situation, she understood why Ferris took the chance and went all out.
“Just go out there and have fun, you know everything we have taught you and there isn’t much more we can say,” Nelson said. “Just go out and play volleyball like we know we can do.”
The Bulldogs travel to Portland for their final match of the season on Monday at 5 p.m. They are looking to sweep the season series against the Pilots after beating them earlier this season, 3-0 in the Martin Centre.