Gonzaga volleyball capped off its season with a sweep against the University of Portland on Nov. 25 — a perfect ending to the season, if you ask head coach Diane Nelson, who said the final West Coast Conference game was her favorite of the entire fall.
"To cap this off with a sweep — it's everything this group is capable of,” she said. "It's just fun to watch them be loose and be great."
This year, the Bulldogs ended with an overall record of 11-19. The nonconference season began with a bang following a win against Central Washington University and continued the early success at the Pentagon Invite in Virginia, where the Zags took home three wins against the University of Connecticut, Navy and Air Force.
Soon after followed three more invitationals: the Gonzaga Invitational at home, The Redhawk Invitational in Seattle, and finally the Nevada Tournament.
Conference play began Sept. 26, as the Zags fell to nationally ranked BYU. In early November, GU came back strong with three straight wins against Loyola Marymount University, University of the Pacific and Saint Mary’s college.
“I think there were some points that we're like, ‘Man, we’re not doing well,’ but we definitely finished strong, we figured stuff out,” senior Payton Mack said.
The Zags finished the WCC season off with three games in less than one week. They faced No. 20 University of San Diego and No. 13 BYU, as well as Portland.
In the final week, they fell to USD and BYU, but took home the first set win against BYU since 2016 before sweeping the Pilots.
“It's pretty surreal,” Mack said after the game. “I think it'll take me some time to actually fully realize like what's going on now. I'm just so happy, we've all worked so hard and I think it just showed tonight.”
Seniors Jenna Kuehn and Mack graduate this year, leaving 15 returners for next year's team. Mack said she’s proud of the growth GU made during the season.
“We really picked ourselves up,” Mack said. “This team now is totally different than our lowest point. I'm just proud of everyone.”
The Zags finished with a conference record of 5-13. Mack said if she could put the season into a phrase, it would be "never give up."
“Senior leadership really started to take root in the second half of conference and both Jenna and Peyton … those two just really played like they had nothing to lose,” Nelson said.
Both Kuehn and Mack proved to be forces of leadership on the team, Nelson said she urged her players to enjoy every single moment of the game.
“They didn't want this to end,” Nelson said. “I think they love their seniors and so they just wanted to lift them up and be what they're supposed to be for each other.”
To cap it all off, junior Sarah Penner was named All-WCC Honorable Mention, her third all-conference recognition.
Next season, Nelson is excited to see her players discover the ceiling of their abilities.
“[I’m looking forward to] the young kids experiencing what they're capable of and working toward a more consistent season, and we know we can play with anybody given the right mindset,” Nelson said. “They ended this season with the right mindset.”