Volleyball falls in NCAA Sweet 16

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The 2015 volleyball season came to a close last weekend for Gannon University, as the Knights fell to Wheeling Jesuit in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division II tournament.

The Atlantic Region’s top seed, Wheeling Jesuit scooted past the Knights, winning 3-0.

It marked the fifth straight year that the Cardinals have won the Atlantic Region.

Despite the loss, coach Matt Darling and the rest of his team are far from disappointed about their season.

Gannon volleyball had not made it that far into the national tournament since 1993, when the Knights advanced all the way to the Elite Eight.

“Once we saw the draw, we knew the Sweet 16 was possible,” said Darling, whose team finished at 24-11 — the seventh straight year Gannon had reached the 20-win mark.

In addition to the Knights’ lengthy tournament run as a team, Morgan Walters, Hannah Kren and Kelsey Ansec were all named to the Atlantic Regional All-Tournament team.

Walters was dynamite in the backcourt for the Knights throughout the tournament.  During the regular season, she led the PSAC in aces, but none were more important than those in the third set against Shippensburg in the opening round of the regional tournament.

There, the Knights were tied 1-1 going into the third set.  Shippensburg was on top 23-16 in that third set, until Walters came to the line to serve.  Walters’ lightning fast aces and other great serves put the Knights on a run to close out the set 27-25.  The Knights were able to rally around Walters’ performance for the remainder of the match and came out on top 3-1 over Shippensburg.

The Knights rolled in the second round over West Chester, 3-0.  More great serving and unbeatable blocking led to the victory.

Kren also had three very good matches and was a key to the Knights’ success this season.  She has proven to be a “difference maker” for the Knights, Darling said.

Lynne Hibbard, who led the Atlantic Region tournament in blocks with 23, took care of guarding the net for Gannon.

However, it was not enough for the Knights in last Saturday’s matchup against Wheeling Jesuit, which moved to 36-4 and advanced to the national quarterfinals, where it will face Arkansas Fort Smith Thursday in Tampa, Fla.

The Knights kept it close in the first set, but just couldn’t match the Cardinals’ athleticism.

A conference championship and a deep tournament run, were the two goals Gannon volleyball had set out to accomplish this 2015 season.

In the past, the Knights typically performed well in conference play, but were unable to make it very far in the national tournament.

However, the Knights’ 2015 season could not have gone much differently.

Despite not winning a conference championship this year, Darling and the Knights were able to surpass their goals in postseason play, making it to the Atlantic Region championship match.

Even in the face of several injuries and numerous position changes, this year’s seniors were able to have a memorable final season.

Darling is now turning his focus to recruiting for the 2016 season ahead.

This offseason will prove to be very important this year, as this year’s edition of the Knights has raised the bar very high for next year’s team.

 

ALEC SCHEMMEL

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