vball season recap

Cara McKenzie (8) had a .309 hitting percentage and started 24 matches in her first season as a Bulldog.

Gonzaga University volleyball capped off its season on Nov. 23 with a match against Pepperdine University, a tough 0-3 loss which brought the team’s overall season record to 9-20 with a 5-13 West Coast Conference (WCC) record. 

The season will be remembered in part as the final season of head coach Diane Nelson, who announced that she is stepping down after six seasons in the leadership role. Nelson, who was the first GU alum to serve as head coach for the volleyball team, will resign with a 67-91 career coaching record. 

Though Nelson’s departure is certainly a loss for the Zags, who will soon begin a national search for a new head coach, she will be leaving behind a team bursting at the seams with talent and ready to take on the new challenge. 

Both junior outside hitter Kennedy Croft and graduate middle blocker Cara McKenzie, walked away from the 2021 season with huge personal accomplishments, having both earned All-WCC Honorable Mentions at the end of November. 

McKenzie’s stats tell the story of a stellar season. In addition to her All-WCC nod, she led the team in total blocks (68.0) and boasts an impressive .309 hitting percentage, the seventh-highest season percentage in program history and ninth highest in the conference. 

McKenzie, a transfer student from Belchertown, Massachusetts attributes her impressive honor to the support and connectedness of both her team and the GU community at large. 

"Volleyball's the ultimate team sport and one person does not succeed without everybody else," McKenzie said. "I think it is a huge testament to the group I have been surrounded by."

Though humble about her accomplishments, McKenzie has every reason to brag coming out of the season, which will be her first and last at GU with her upcoming graduation. 

Croft played an equally impressive season. The Washington native, who was an All-WCC honoree last season, ended the season with 98 career service aces (the eighth-most in program history) and also led the team in kills with a season total of 261. 

Though there are a few clear standout players, the entire team had some hard-fought wins this season. Of these, the Zag victory against Loyola Marymount University in the fall stands out to both Mckenzie and Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Katie Palmer as a huge triumph. 

The Oct. 23 match-up saw the Bulldogs beat the LMU Lions 3-2 in a neck-to-neck five-set game. 

"At that time, LMU was looking like an NCAA tournament team and our win against them showed the WCC that we are capable of playing at the highest level," Palmer said. "The amount of joy was immeasurable."

The Zags also swept the University of Portland Pilots during their senior day match on Nov. 11 with a straight-set victory.

Croft led the way with double-digit kills, followed closely by sophomore outside hitter Zoe Thiros.

Other stars coming out of the game were sophomore defensive specialist Viktoriya Ivanova, who led the team in digs (11) and an impressive three service aces, a career-high for the player, as well as freshman setter Keau Kamake'eaina who led the team in assists. 

While the 2022 season will undoubtedly look different, Palmer forecasts only good things for the Zags. 

“Gonzaga volleyball has gone through a special evolution of putting relationships as the first priority of their pursuit for greatness," Palmer said. "This has resulted in a true family environment within our locker room. I am looking forward to the rise of Gonzaga volleyball. Students and fans are going to love what they see on the court fall 2022.”

Sofia Chavez is a staff writer. Follow her on Twitter: @Sofia_chavez2