Sazama, Wendel help Knights to successful weekend

Junior outside hitter Lauren Sazama’s dominant performance in the Gannon University volleyball team’s win Saturday against Millersville University reflected the team’s commanding sweep of four teams in two days.

Sazama, who has been one of the leading attackers for the Knights so far this season, racked up 65 kills in wins over East Stroudsburg, Lock Haven, Shippensburg and Millersville universities.

Sazama was also named Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Women’s Volleyball Athlete of the Week.

Playing opposite Sazama was junior outside hitter Morgan Reineke, who also helped lead the offense, hitting .548 on the weekend and contributing 36 kills.

This was the second weekend in a row the Knights swept four straight matches, bringing their overall record to 8-4 and their conference record to 4-0.

Coach Matt Darling said he attributes his team’s success to continued offensive explosiveness and slow yet steady improvements with defense and serving. He said that these were major areas of focus during the practices leading up to the weekend.

“Sometimes you need to beat good teams by winning small battles,” he said. “The little improvements we make during the week, whether in passing, serving, blocking, or whatever, are going to make a difference as we get into the middle of our schedule.”

Gannon won its Friday match against Lock Haven, which should have been one of the season’s tougher matches, in three straight sets. This was in part due to minimizing the effectiveness of the Bald Eagles’ best attacker, Xuan Gao. Darling said this was made possible by matching up strong blockers against Gao. Senior Claren Harris and junior Sarah Glancy held her to only three kills the entire match.

“I think the combination of Sarah and Claren is one of the most imposing blocks in the PSAC,” Darling said.

The Knights’ depth also contributed to the wins, as injuries sidelined a few of their key players, such as senior setter Alex DelPiombo.

Freshman setter Megan Wendel saw significant court time and ran her offense effectively, accumulating 85 assists in just three of the weekend’s four matches.

Darling said he was pleased with Wendel’s performance, and that the freshman showed poise and made smart offensive decisions.

“It’s hard to find a substitute for the experience Alex brings to the court, but with every match she plays, Megan grows more and more comfortable in the position,” he said. “She’s going to be great.”

Wendel said she felt comfortable running the experienced offense, whose core group is made up of strong junior and senior attackers.

“We worked as a team the whole time, even when we didn’t have our starters in,” she said. “Once the passes were up there the hitters just put them away.”

The team now turns its attention to its first matchup against a western PSAC team and conference rival. Gannon will face defending PSAC and Atlantic region champion Clarion University on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Hammermill.

CHRISTINE PEFFER

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