Gonzaga volleyball went 2-1 in its first home matches of the season with their own invitational tournament, losing its first game to Grand Canyon University in four sets and beating Ball State and University of Montana in three each. Gonzaga went into the tourney having started 3-0 to begin the season.
The Bulldogs dropped the first match of tournament to Grand Canyon University despite winning the first set 25–18. GCU would come back to win the next three sets, giving Gonzaga their first loss of the season.
Gonzaga turned it around in the next game, winning three straight sets to take their first win of the tournament against Ball State University. This Zags were led by juniors Sarah Penner and Chapin Gray, who had a combined 28 points.
“Coming into our third year together, we’ve really built this connection,” Penner said.
In the third set, the Zags started off strong, getting to a quick 6–1 lead thanks in part by two ace serves by Penner. Montana did eventually get going, trading points with Gonzaga at times, but was never able to surmount the early lead.
Montana did seem to get things going later, getting within three points of Gonzaga when redshirt sophomore Abby Knapp hit the ball out of bounds. However, after a challenge by head coach Diane Nelson, it was determined that Montana had touched the ball, and the point was given to GU.
After this, Gonzaga would score unopposed and take the first set 25 – 14.
Montana began the second set with a quick strike, giving them their first lead of the match at 1 - 0. Montana would tie the score at 3-3, but Gonzaga soon took the lead back and would keep it for the rest of the set. Gonzaga finished the set with an ace serve by junior Julia Talarico, with a final score of 25 – 16.
Again, Montana struck first to begin the third set, starting with a 2 – 1 lead. However, Gonzaga got moving and went on a 9 – 2 run to take an early 6-point lead. Gonzaga would continue to grow this lead as the match continued. Eventually, Gonzaga began pulling its starters to give extra playing time to its reserves. They were still able to get the job done, taking the final set 25–17, with redshirt sophomore Claire Barbe scoring the final point of the evening.
This tournament has served as a barometer how much this team has improved from last year. They went from a 0–6 start last season to a 5–1 start this year.
“The commitment our team has done to training the details… it's probably been the most supportive environment that I’ve coached yet,” Nelson said.
Nelson attributed some of the success to freshman Alisa Kim.
“She has really stepped up into a role we really had no idea who would fit,” Nelson said. “There were big shoes to fill with the girl who left last year, but [she] has been a hard-working kid.”
Diane Nelson looks to prepare her team to face tough opponents in New Mexico, Seattle, and Oregon State next weekend as they travel to Seattle for the Redhawk Invitational.