In an up-hill battle against No. 20 San Diego University (18-4, 12-1 WCC) on Saturday afternoon, the Gonzaga University volleyball team (7-18, 3-11 WCC) was unable to exact its revenge upon the strong conference team that had beaten them early to season in three straight sets. Despite losing the match, the Zags were able to extend the game to four sets and really test the mettle of the Toreros.
The first set started with the Toreros forming a gap early on in the scoreboard. Powerful spikes and quick transitions by SDU forced GU to scramble after the ball and gave the team very few offensive chances.
But, the Zags were persistent and resilient. With the team diving for every ball and setting up strong blocks, GU was able to tie the score five times and take the lead once in the set.
“We knew that coming into it that we had to serve tough and I thought our blocks did a decent job slowing them down,” said GU head coach Diane Nelson. “They just were transitioning faster than they've ever been on the pins, which made it difficult [to defend].”
However, as the set continued, the Toreros were able to show the Bulldogs why they're ranked in the top 25 in the nation. Going on a series of runs late in the set, SDU was able to extend its lead. Not even two timeouts by GU was able to halt its progress, and SDU came out in the first set on top.
A 6-1 run by the Toreros forced the Zags to call a timeout to reset and disrupt the Toreros’s point streak. But, nothing could disrupt the momentum of SDU and another timeout was called when the score was 11-1.
“We were not being ourselves,” Nelson said. “We just had to remind ourselves to believe in ourselves and play with some pride. And they respond well to that.”
The Zags found their rhythm midway through the set, winning a long rally to make the score 18-8. This was followed by 2 more points for GU. Even after the Toreros ramped up the pressure, the Bulldogs were able to hold the momentum together and bring the score to 23-15.
Yet, the damage had already been done and SDU finished out the set on top. Ending with a block error by Juliette Russell, the set ended 25-16.
The third set started out as a strong one for GU. Despite being down two points in the third set, the Zags were able to recover and even take and extend the lead.
“We walked in that locker room and I said, ‘you just gotta believe in yourselves right now.’" Nelson said. “Kids this age need to be reminded that they are capable and worthy. Look what they did when they [believed] that.”
Getting tighter blocks and communicating better on the court, the team was in whole other gear from the first two sets, and despite SDU calling two timeouts to disrupt the momentum, the Zags were able to hold onto their lead.
Cara McKenzie finished the set with a powerful kill and the set went to the Bulldogs, 25-20.
“It felt great,” McKenzie said. “I just want to do whatever I can to help the squad and if it means putting the ball down, it is fun and rewarding.”
The final set was the closest of the matchup and truly highlighted the teams resilience and grit.
With GU getting 15 kills in the set, the highest all game, and a series of strong blocks, it was difficult for SDU to take the lead and end the game. In fact, the final set was tied up 10 different times and lead changes of three in the game.
“I think we just really wanted to fight back and this is a super resilient group,” McKenzie said. “That's the story of the season. We keep fighting no matter what's happening.”
It was not until the very end that SDU was able to break through and score the final three points to end the final set 25-22.
The Zags will be on the road for the next two weeks before playing its final home game against Portland University on Nov. 22. The team hopes to continue to get better at responding to quick transitions and perfecting its serves and spikes.
“We can win [the next two games coming up],” Nelson said. “But we got to serve tough and pass it off, so we can run our middles.”