In the third West Coast Conference (WCC) game of the season, the Gonzaga University volleyball team (5-9, 1-2 WCC) defeated the Saint Mary’s Gaels, clinching its first conference win of the season.
Starting off with a powerful service ace from GU’s Danielle Batenhorst, the Bulldogs hit the ground running and took the first set within the first 25 minutes of the match.
The Zags were high-energy and overwhelmed Saint Mary’s quickly. Intense kills by McKenna Marshall, who had three of the nine kills in the set, and several service aces from the team gave GU the set, 25-12.
The second set started off more evenly matched as the Gaels started to find its rhythm. GU held strong in the first half, but were soon consumed by the Gaels’ determination to push them down.
With powerful blocking and dedication to scrappy recoveries and attacks, the Gaels overpowered the Zags in the second half and started gathering consecutive points, while also managing to keep the lead changes down to one.
Despite amazing plays and consistent stops by McKenna Marshall and Juliette Russel, who stood strong on defense, the Zags struggled to keep up and the Gaels took the second set, 25-12.
But the Bulldogs never run from a fight, and the team immediately bounced back. The third set saw a powerful first play by GU and that energy was seen throughout the intense and dragging set.
Head Coach Diane Nelson expressed her pride in the team and noted that their concentration in the moment is something that always amazes her.
“I’m proud, I’m a proud mom. They drive me nuts, of course, because they’re kids and they’re learning,” said Nelson. “And so, we keep saying, stay in the moment. Stay the course, one step at a time.”
The Gaels fought hard, making it almost impossible for the Bulldogs to score consecutive points. Saint Mary’s defense specialist and libero, Kelsey Knudsen, proved to be an issue for the Bulldogs by refusing to let the ball fall touch the floor.
In the first half, both teams were matching each other point for point. Every block, spike and receive was back-and-forth until the Zags managed to change the flow in their favor after a timeout.
Quickly, the Bulldogs pulled ahead and widened the gap between the teams. The Gaels tried to play catch-up, but the Zags prevailed and stole the set, 25-22.
Intense doesn’t even begin to describe the fourth and final set.
The Bulldogs kept up a smooth rhythm and began to pull ahead quickly, but just as people were settling in for the GU win, the Gaels started to slowly make a comeback.
With the game at 16-16, the Gaels threw off the Zags’ groove and gathered five consecutive points, with three kills in a row by Saint Mary’s Chandler Cowell. From there, it was a constant back-and-forth battle.
Consecutive errors resulting in consecutive points sent the teams spiraling into what ended in not one, not two, but eight deuces.
The teams switched off every play and the pressure was on. The Zags struggled with its serves as the nerves began to pile on. Saint Mary’s was in the same position and made several attacking errors and dropped receives when the rallies got long.
The Zags finally snatched the win following a failed set by Saint Mary’s, closing at 33-31.
Outside hitter Kennedy Croft, who led with 15 kills this game, says that despite numbers being lower than she knows the coach would like, the team fought hard and came out on top because of it.
“I think we just need to play with the same heart we did tonight, and clean up the numbers offensively, and then we’ll be good,” says Croft.
The Zags play the Pacific Tigers on Saturday, October 2nd at the home before traveling to California next week.