Knights lasso Dig Pink victory

By CHRISTINE PEFFER

assistant sports editor

The Gannon University women’s volleyball team took on both Point Park University and breast cancer Tuesday night in its Dig Pink match, an effort to raise money and awareness and show support for those whose lives have been affected by the disease.

They were successful on both fronts, beating Point Park in a thrilling 3-2 set battle and attracting a crowd of 385 fans who came to support their respective teams as well as the cause.

The win was a motivational follow-up to the team’s recent conference matchups against Clarion University and Slippery Rock University, in which they lost to the Golden Eagles 3-0 and came back to defeat the Rock 3-1.

In the season matchup between the Knights and the Golden Eagles, both teams have defended their home court. Senior right side hitter Courtney Cook said she believes they have the edge in home games, but need to try to maintain this success when they are on the road.

“We’re a team that feeds off of our home-court energy,” she said. “We’re in the process of understanding how to create that same atmosphere on the road. It’s taking us some time, but we’ll get there.”

Coach Matt Darling said he attributes this slight disparity in the team’s success rate on its home court in comparison with road games to the strength of the conference.

“In this conference, road wins are precious,” he said. “The PSAC continues to be a really tough conference, and the battle for the top two playoff spots will be intense these next two weekends.”

He said that although he felt that the team didn’t play its best against Clarion, he gives a lot of credit to the Golden Eagles for  taking care of the ball and said that Gannon can and will play better.

“We need to acknowledge that they’re the defending PSAC champs and, lately, they’ve been beating pretty much everyone,” he said. “They played great defense and won all the long rallies.”

Cook said she felt the Knights didn’t get into a good rhythm against Clarion, which switched up its offensive scheme in order to have a more imposing block against Gannon’s powerful attackers. However, she said she thought the Knights bounced back well in Saturday’s match against Slippery Rock.

“Beating Slippery Rock was critical, so it was a good thing we stepped up as a team and got it done,” she said.

Darling said he didn’t think the team’s play over the weekend was as sharp as it has been recently, but that junior outside hitter Lauren Sazama came up with crucial plays down the stretch against Slippery Rock.

“In that match, Lauren Sazama was superb,” he said. “She made big kills at every key moment, and it was enough to help us overcome some sluggish passing.”

Tuesday’s non-conference match against Point Park took Gannon for all it was worth, pushing the Knights to its third five-game match of the season, the second of which Gannon came out on top.

“It’s our second straight five-set win, but you have to have those because that’s what you’ll see in the playoffs,” Darling said after the match. “You have to play in those four- and five-set games.”

The play was extremely even on both sides, with both teams pushing the other to some of the longest rallies the Knights have seen all season. However, Gannon did not falter or look worn down by these long stretches during the final set, which they won by a score of 15-8.

Senior middle hitter Claren Harris said that though Point Park was a tough opponent, the Knights were eventually able to hit their stride.

“We haven’t played a team like that before,” she said. “They have some crazy defense, but once we got our legs under us, we got in a little bit of a rhythm.”

Although the win and the cause they were playing for were motivators for the Knights, Darling said he is focused on the next three road games they have coming up against conference rivals Indiana University of Pennsylvania, California University of Pennsylvania and Edinboro University.

“As was the case last year, the top teams will have to get some big wins on the road,” he said. “Although we’ve lost a couple of road matches already, we’ve also picked up big wins at Mercyhurst and Slippery Rock.”

He said that right now, the team is focused on an important goal: getting home court advantage for the first round of the PSAC playoffs.

“As long as we can win two of the next three road matches, we’ll be guaranteed a home match for the first round,” he said. “That’s what we’re working for right now.”

Cook said that with this goal in mind, the focus of the team has been heightened at practices.

“We understand we’re at a crucial point in our season right now and we have to start peaking with tournament play coming up,” she said. “As always, serve receive and defense are a big focus, and we need to stay sharp offensively.”

Gannon will look to get these vital road wins in matches against IUP Friday at 7 p.m. and Cal Saturday at 2 p.m.

CHRISTINE PEFFER

peffer002[email protected]