Five-set nail-biter keeps Knights at No.1

Coming off a weekend that included a tough five-set conference loss to Kutztown University, the Gannon University women’s volleyball team got back on track with three straight wins over Notre Dame College and conference rivals Mercyhurst College and Edinboro University.

Coach Matt Darling said that he and the coaching staff emphasized the importance of getting back in the win column and the team responded.

“This was a big week for us,” he said. “All week we stressed the importance of having a 3-0 week to get back to where we wanted to be in the standings.”

After handily defeating Notre Dame in three straight sets on Wednesday, the Knights traveled across town to a hostile Mercyhurst Athletic Center on Friday and beat the Lakers by scores of 25-20, 23-25, 25-17 and 25-13.

Senior middle hitter Kara Cullen led the way with 14 kills and no hitting errors, a feat that she said was made possible by the team’s solid passing and setting.

Darling said the leadership of the seniors was a key component in the team’s most recent three games.

“The upperclassmen, especially Kara, Courtney (Cook), and Chelsea (Barrett) kept the team ready to practice hard and play with a purpose.”

Barrett, a senior outside hitter and defensive specialist, said the team was extremely focused coming into all three matches and that she felt the freshmen also played big roles in the win.

Freshman setter Megan Wendel and freshman outside hitter Maggie Desrosiers made big plays down the stretch, with Wendel tallying 23 assists and Desrosiers adding six kills, all of which came in the final two sets of the match.

Barrett said she believes they have been successfully integrated into the team because their individual personalities and work ethics mesh with those of the upperclassmen.

“They are just really taking the initiative to work hard,” she said.

Saturday’s five-set match against Edinboro went down to the wire, as the decisive fifth game, which normally goes to 15 points and must be won by two, was resolved by a score of 20-18.

Darling said that although the Hammermill Center was packed, it was made up largely of Edinboro fans. He said he attributes this to the game taking place over fall break as well as Edinboro’s proximity to Erie.

“The atmosphere was loud and energized no matter who was scoring,” he said. “For once, I can honestly say that we didn’t have a home-court advantage; we won this match because of the courage of our players.”

Gannon has only gone to five sets one other time this season, and it was in its recent loss to Kutztown. Darling said that having a five-set win under the team’s belt will be a good confidence boost for the remainder of the season.

“I can’t overstate how important it was for us to win a fifth set,” he said. “We needed to show that we could be at our best in high-stress situations, and we did that on Saturday.”

Cullen was again a dominant force in every aspect of the game against Edinboro, as she racked up 13 kills, six digs, six block assists, three solo blocks and four aces. She also finished with no errors in serving or blocking.

While Cullen was both a statistical and emotional leader, Darling said that the win was a total team effort.

“Every player who stepped onto the court in the fifth set made a big play,” he said. “It was awesome, and I think that win will give us confidence as we go on the road for some big conference matches in the upcoming weeks.”

Barrett also said she felt that the hard-fought win will help the players down the road and brought them closer.

“It was a much-needed win for us,” she said. “We really came together as a team and emotionally helped pull each other through it.”

She also said that if they want to continue their success, they will have to bring the same kind of intensity to the rest of the matches they play.

“Right now we are where we want to be, first in the conference,” she said. “But the rest of our schedule is away, so we need to bring lots of focus and the same kind of intensity from the Edinboro game to help get us through them.”

The team will look to stay sharp in its upcoming matches Friday and Saturday as it travels to face Clarion University and Slippery Rock University for two essential conference matchups.

The games will take place at 7 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively.

Darling said he is confident that the Knights will be ready for these matches, as long as they find a balance between staying rested and healthy but also practicing hard enough to keep their edge.

“We’re a veteran team,” he said. “I’m confident that we’ll be ready to play on Friday night.”


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