Volleyball surpasses PSAC rivals

A heartbreaking four-set loss to regional rival Wheeling Jesuit University snapped the Gannon University volleyball team’s 10-game winning streak Tuesday as the Knights were unable to defeat the Cardinals on their home court.

After splitting the first two sets, the Knights let a ten point lead slip away in the third set after working to be ahead 18-8. The fourth set was a back and forth battle between the two teams that Wheeling Jesuit narrowly won by a score of 27-25 on a kill block.

However, Gannon chalked up two important conference wins on Friday and Saturday against rivals Clarion University and Slippery Rock University in front of a packed crowd in the Hammermill Center.

The intensity in the Hammermill was especially palpable on Friday as the team earned its ninth straight win against Clarion, beating the defending Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and Atlantic Region champion in three straight sets.

The Knights fed off of the energy provided by the rambunctious fans that “filled the Mill,” defeating Clarion by scores of 25-22, 25-20 and 25-20. They also won their next match on Saturday against Slippery Rock in three sets, recording scores of 25-18, 27-25 and 25-18.

The game against the Golden Eagles was an important conference matchup, as both teams had been undefeated in conference play, with Clarion being ranked first in the preseason coaches poll and Gannon tied for second with California University of Pennsylvania.

Gannon has split its season record with Clarion for the past two years, and head coach Matt Darling said that the matches between the two teams are always competitive, something that drove his players to be at their best during Friday’s match.

“I think the players have been looking forward to the Clarion match,” he said. “When you add the energy of a terrific crowd to the emotions associated with playing the defending conference and regional champs, your attention to detail becomes more keen than usual.”

Junior outside hitter Morgan Reineke said that the support of the crowd on Friday played a huge role in pushing the Knights to victory, as they were playing not only for themselves but also for their fans.

“Having support like that made the game even more intense,” she said. “When the energy is that high, no team is going to beat us on our home court.”

Reineke said she is excited to chalk up the team’s first win against the Golden Eagles, and that it helped infuse confidence in her and her teammates for future tough matchups.

“Beating Clarion meant a lot to us,” she said. “It showed our fans and other teams in the conference that we’re better than last season. We have a lot of potential and we’re ready to take on any type of team.”

Reineke was an offensive leader for the Knights on Friday and Saturday, totaling 12 kills and hitting .308 percent on Saturday. Darling said that Reineke’s kills came at crucial times and were vital in helping the team regain its momentum after Clarion went on a run of several straight points.

“In the first set against Clarion, Morgan really bailed us out with some big kills,” he said.

Reineke’s leadership and offensive success paved the way for her teammates to also contribute on both ends of the court. Junior outside hitter Lauren Sazama again found her rhythm on both offense and defense, recording her fifth straight match with double-digit kills and matching her season high match total of 18. She also recorded her third straight double-double, tying freshman libero Taryn Graham for a team high 19 digs.

This performance as well as others over the past couple weeks have earned Sazama her second straight PSAC Western Division Volleyball Athlete of the Week award.

While the team was led on Friday by big kills from Reineke and Sazama, Saturday’s win against Slippery Rock was facilitated by strong blocking.

“Against Slippery Rock, it was the blocking of Sarah (Glancy), Kara (Cullen), Claren (Harris) and Courtney (Cook) that carried us to victory,” Darling said.

Darling said the highlight of the weekend was seeing different players step up, do their jobs and contribute big plays when they were needed. However, he said that the team still needs to take things one day at a time and continue to improve and that he hopes this mindset will lead them to success in their remaining PSAC matches.

“These were two great wins, obviously, and we’re happy to put two more marks in the win column,” Darling said. “But it’s early in the year, so we need to keep these wins in perspective. We’re playing well, but we’re still hungry to improve in some areas.”

The Knights will look to recover from their loss to Wheeling Jesuit as they host two more PSAC teams, Indiana University of Pennsylvania at 7 p.m. Friday and California University of Pennsylvania at 2 p.m. Saturday.

CHRISTINE PEFFER

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