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Gonzaga's Katelyn Oppio hits the ball into San Diego territory. The Zags ultimately fell 3-0 to the Toreros.

For the second game in a row, the Zags found themselves overwhelmed by a conference opponent in three sets. Gonzaga struggled to respond to San Diego’s offensive showing Saturday afternoon, falling 3-0 in the Martin Centre for the second game in a row.

USD came into the West Coast Conference matchup riding a five-game win streak and a week in which they received votes in the AVCA Top 25 poll.

In the first set, the Toreros (9-4, 2-0) largely dominated the Bulldogs (6-8, 0-2) offensively, scoring 18 kills to GU’s nine and hitting over twice as efficiently. USD’s Grace Frohling and Katie Lukes combined for eight kills with only one error, and GU’s defensive mishandling never allowed them to gain traction and come back from an early deficit.

The Zags couldn’t stop the Toreros from rolling in the second, despite putting up more of a fight at the beginning and the end thanks to improved hitting from Abby Knapp and Chapin Gray. GU nearly matched USD’s attack attempts, although they failed to convert as efficiently as the Toreros. The second set also saw a number of stoppages due to challenges or call corrections, breaking up play a number of times.

 “I think with the breaks, we kind of let off,” said head coach Diane Nelson. “We talked about how it’s going to be a marathon. If you’re ready to run the marathon, you’ve gotta come out and start strong, and I think that’s just a maturity piece.”

Facing elimination, the Bulldogs ran out of steam early in the final set. GU never led after starting the set off 1-0, hitting only 3.8% throughout. Down 23-8 late, GU made a last-gasp effort on the wings of kills by Gray and Megan Jacobsen, but ultimately couldn’t string together enough of a run to keep them in the game.

“We’ve got to play the long game,” Nelson said. “We totally have the capability, but we’ve got to stay it in mentally all the way. We can hang with any of these teams.”

However, there were some bright spots for the Zags, as Knapp and Gray combined for 15 kills overall. Their blocking as a team was a stark improvement from their last outings as well.

 

“We worked on blocking this week, and it was actually productive today, to the point where defenders have to start doing their jobs too,” Nelson said.

With the loss, Zags drop to 0-2 in West Coast Conference play, but both games were against the strongest teams in the league in the Toreros and BYU, who defeated them 3-0 in the Martin Centre Thursday night. The schedule looks to ease up in coming weeks.

“Obviously, we’ve been struggling, so that’s been difficult to deal with,” Knapp said. “But luckily these are the two most difficult teams in the conference, so we can come back. I think the worst has happened, and all we can do is build from here.”

Next up, the Zags go on the road to Los Angeles, Calif. to play Loyola Marymount on Thursday, Oct. 3.

Connor Gilbert is a sports editor. Follow him on Twitter: @connorjgilbert.

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