The Gannon University volleyball team’s hopes of bringing home a conference championship this season were dashed by California University of Pennsylvania in a three-set loss Tuesday.
The quarterfinal matchup was decided by scores of 25-18, 25-16 and 25-20.
The fourth-ranked Knights’ road woes continued as they were unable to beat the top-seeded Vulcans in either meeting at Hamer Hall.
The Vulcans have been the champions of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West for four out of the last five seasons.
Coach Matt Darling said Cal deserves credit for beating the Knights, who he said made too many errors.
“They won so many points where we would get a great swing, and they would dig it to the back wall and somehow send it back over,” he said. “We were outhustled, outworked and outcoached. It wasn’t a great effort from any of us.”
Senior middle hitter Claren Harris said that although the Knights struggled under the pressure, she gives a lot of credit to Cal.
“They did play an amazing defensive game tonight,” she said. “Hopefully we can still pull out a postseason win.”
According to Darling, the first set had been close until the Knights let their opponent pull away after a string of serving and attacking errors. The Knights, who lead the PSAC in hitting percentage with .241, uncharacteristically hit under .100 in the loss with just 30 kills. The Vulcans contrastingly were able to get into an offensive rhythm, hitting .267 with 41 kills. Gannon also struggled with passing, averaging just 1.5 in all three sets, and were edged by Cal in the dig column 62-43.
However, the Knights ended their regular season on a positive note Saturday by securing their fourteenth straight win in the Hammermill Center as they hosted Mercyhurst for senior night.
The five seniors all played an integral role in the commanding win over the Lakers, with attackers Kara Cullen and Courtney Cook combining for 20 kills and both hitting above .300. Senior setter Alex DelPiombo facilitated the offense as she dished out 41 assists in just four sets.
Harris said it was the perfect way to end her career at the Hammermill.
“It was an emotional win; everyone that was on the court played their hardest and everyone on the sidelines cheered their hearts out,” she said. “I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
Darling said he experienced mixed emotions watching the group of five seniors who make up the heart of the team playing their last match at home.
“It was definitely bittersweet,” he said. “This is the group I first sat down with in their homes and said, ‘Look, I know the program’s record hasn’t been great, but just come and we will get it there.’”
Darling said the fact that they have believed in the cause since their arrival in 2008 has been clear in their combined, diligent work ethic. It has been the key component to their combined home record of 21-1 over the past two years; something Darling said has been unprecedented by Gannon teams in the past. He also said that he is not sure if the freshmen understand yet the amount of work the upperclassmen have put into turning the program around.
“Many people come in expecting to be good, but you have to work to be good,” he said.
Darling also said that after speaking with the team co-captains, DelPiombo and Cook, he thinks they may have started to worry about the legacy they will leave at Gannon, now that their goal of a conference championship has become unattainable.
However, Darling said he doesn’t think they need to worry. According to him, the Knights had been a regular in the NCAA tournament 15 years ago before becoming completely absent from it until the arrival of this group of seniors, who have led the program to three straight appearances.
“That’s their legacy,” he said.
Now that it has been ousted from the PSAC tournament, the team will wait until Nov. 12 to hear whether it will extend its postseason by receiving a bid for the NCAA tournament.
Gannon was ranked fourth in the Atlantic Regional rankings coming into Tuesday’s loss; the top eight teams will earn a bid.