Volleyball opens season with exhibition loss

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The Gannon University women’s volleyball team fell to Division I Bowling Green in an exhibition match on Aug. 24 at the Stroh Center, 25-19, 25-10, 19-25, 26-24.
Ally Smith and Lauren Sampson each posted double-doubles for the Knights. Smith went for 10 kills, 11 digs and three aces, while Sampson added 10 kills and 12 digs. Ashley Beyers put up 32 assists, six kills on .500 hitting and seven digs.
The first set, the Knights jumped out of leads of 5-1 and 10-5 against the Falcons before an 8-1 run in the end.  Smith had five kills in the set, while Toni Leitshuh turned in 10 digs.
After Bowling Green managed to tie the third set, a huge 10-1 run gave Gannon a 21-12 lead, and the Knights held on through a late charge by the Falcons to earn the set win. Ashley Kerestes put up five kills on nine swings in the set, and Lauren Sampson contributed with four kills and six digs.
Bowling Green built a 23-16 lead in the fourth and deciding set, but the Knights came back and after three straight kills and an ace, Bowling Green called a timeout.
The hosts got it to match point on the next serve, but an error, followed by a block from Beyers and Aubree Lanman, tied it at 24-24. Bowling Green managed to get the next two points to seal the set and escape with the win.
In the end, four Knights recorded at least 10 digs, and the team totaled four blocks and five aces on the night.
This season the Knights have 17 players on their roster, including three seniors, being the deepest team they’ve had since coach Matt Darling has been at Gannon. Sampson, Beyers and Kerestes were all-region selections last year, as was returnee Ashley McClung.
Darling, in his 13th season at Gannon,  said he thinks every player on the team is likely to contribute something during the season due to the depth of talent, and the practices are very competitive right now.
Darling mentioned a few potential weaknesses, but not enough to prevent the Knights from being competitive in every match this season.
“Like every team, we need to stay healthy and to keep getting better every week,” Darling said.
“If we do those things, it should be a great season.”
Last season, the Knights went 31-3 and won the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference regular-season championship. They were a unanimous choice to win the PSAC Northwest, according to the preseason coaches poll released last month.
Darling said he thinks the team is capable of even bigger things this season.
“From the outside, it probably seems unlikely that we can do much better than 31-3, which was the best or maybe second-best record for any team in the country last year,” Darling said.
“However, for the players and coaches, we actually do feel that there is room for improvement.  We’re working hard to find ways to be better.”
The Knights’ regular season will begin Friday as they will travel to Big Rapids, Mich., to compete in the Ferris State Invitational.
“I’m most excited to see how this team evolves during the season,” Darling said.
“I honestly think that our lineup will change quite a bit during the season because we are going to need different players’ strengths at different times this year.”
OLIVIA HAHNER
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