Season comes to bittersweet close

The Gannon University women’s volleyball program struggled after its successful 1993 season to produce a team that could achieve a winning record. An NCAA tournament appearance was unheard of – forget about three in a row.

That is exactly what this season’s group of seniors can hold onto as their contribution to a program that has come leaps and bounds in the four short years they have been a part of it.

Although the Knights finished the season with a disappointing loss to conference rival Edinboro in the opening round of the NCAA tournament for the Atlantic Regional, it was a narrow and hard-fought victory for the Fighting Scots.

Gannon dropped each of the first two sets by narrow margins before coming back to take the third set. They looked to be running away with the fourth and were on the brink of forcing a fifth and final set before Edinboro rallied behind the serve of Seth Sullivan to overcome a 17-23 deficit.

“In a weird way, that was sort of the defining moment of the season,” Coach Matt Darling said. “Big lead, passing problems leading to a defeat.”

However, Darling said this is not an indictment on the season, which he said had many “brilliant moments,” and that it was simply a frank way of looking at what the season entailed – great moments undermined by lapses in execution.

“The season was, for two- thirds of the year, almost exactly what we were hoping for,” he said. “We were at one time second in the region, first in the conference and were really in a position to win this thing.”

Darling said that the 10-day stretch in which the Knights defeated Clarion, Cal and Edinboro at home was the high point of the season, something junior middle hitter Sarah Glancy also noted as a memorable point.

“That was our peak of the season,” she said. “It was good for us to know that when push comes to shove we can compete with those teams in playoffs.”

Glancy, who will play a central role in next year’s starting lineup, said that the team first began to struggle during a long series of road matches.

“We had a hard time executing when we weren’t in front of our home crowd,” she said. “Something that would’ve helped us was realizing the equal importance of home and away games sooner.”

According to Darling, the road losses had a big impact on not only the team’s record but also its confidence.

“The team’s ethos is just so different when we’re away from the Mill,” he said. “By the time we got to playoffs, we seemed beatable.”

However, Darling said that there were moments of the season that defined the vision he has had for the team since his arrival four years ago, and that the mistakes made are easily fixed.

But for the five seniors who have completed their careers with Gannon volleyball, all they can do is hope they have instilled their work ethic and desire to improve in the underclassmen.

Senior Alex DelPiombo said that in her four years with the Knights, she has taken away more than just thrill of three straight NCAA appearances.

“It’s been an amazing four years,” she said. “I’ve grown not only in volleyball but as a person, and I’ve made priceless friendships.”

One of these, she said, is with teammate and close friend Kara Cullen, who said the conclusion of the season was bittersweet.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” she said. “I knew it would be hard to see it end, but I still think we had a great season overall and I have so many memories to look back on.”

According to the statistics, the Knights are losing their biggest offensive threat in Cullen as well as the starting setter in DelPiombo. However, that is not all the senior group brought to the court. Darling said they were the group who arrived in the midst of the program’s struggles and resolved to turn things around.

“Those five kids are the best five leaders on the court,” Darling said. “We lose any connection to that blue collar, ‘let’s get this done’ attitude – that will just be relegated to story time at this point. This group knew below .500, they knew being second to last place in the conference. I don’t know how you replace that.”

Though he said it will be tough to replace them, the group of juniors and freshmen bring their own strengths to the table as well. The Knights will be returning junior outside hitter Lauren Sazama, one of the PSAC’s most decorated players, as well as junior Morgan Reineke, who Darling said has the potential to be an impact player in the conference. Sazama was awarded first-team conference honors, along with Cullen, and was also named to the region’s first team by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

Glancy will also be one of Gannon’s top returners, as Darling said she has matured from a player he simply felt comfortable with to one he can really trust in all facets of the game.

The Knights will also look to rely on a core group of freshmen that saw a lot of court time and gained valuable experience during their first season. Setter Megan Wendel will take over with facilitating the offense, and libero Taryn Graham will look to stabalize the defense for Gannon.

Darling also said that though she didn’t see many matches this year, freshman middle hitter Emily Carver will be a force to be reckoned with next year.

Glancy said that though the season didn’t end exactly how they wanted, they came together as a group and continued to build upon seasons past.

“We tried a lot of different things this year, and hopefully we have figured out how to win on the road,” Glancy said. “I think the prospects look good for next year. I’m really excited for my senior season with Gannon volleyball.”

CHRISTINE PEFFER

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