Volleyball team rolls on road

Volleyball teams of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Eastern Division had a chance to see their Western Division counterparts for the only time Friday and Saturday. After the Gannon University team was done with them, once was likely enough.

The Knights were nearly flawless once again, winning all four PSAC Crossover matches while taking all but one set in the process.

Friday and Saturday’s games marked the first conference games, giving the Knights a half-game lead for first place over Clarion, Slippery Rock, California and Indiana universities of Pennsylvania in the PSAC West. Gannon improved to 12-2 overall.

Gannon began the weekend by making quick work of Millersville University with wins of 25-17, 25-20 and 25-18 Friday and followed it up with a four-set win over host Lock Haven University with scores of 25-21, 25-21, 22-5 and 25-18. Gannon’s lone hiccup in the third set marked the first time an opponent won a set since Gannon lost a five-set match to Ohio Dominican Sept. 8.

The Knights were in nearly perfect symmetry, as the offense racked up 37 kills against Millersville and 58 against Lock Haven, while the defense contributed 22 blocks in each game. The stingy Knights defense did a job on Lock Haven’s three-time PSAC East Player of the Year Xuan Gao to just eight kills and a .074 hitting percentage.

Lauren Sazama once again led the offense with 41 kills Friday.

“I think we’re all clicking now and all parts of the team are playing as one,” Sazama said. “We could be even better than last year, because we play so consistent and what we lost in some areas, we’re making up on digs.”

Gannon carried its momentum into Sunday when they steamrolled over Shippensburg and East Stroudsburg universities in three sets at East Stroudsburg.

The Knights were tested in the third set against Shippensburg, as they trailed 23-17 and looked to be heading toward a fourth set. However, 10 points later—nine of which belonged to Gannon— a fourth set proved needless.

Against East Stroudsburg, the Knights showed no such vulnerability, as they overwhelmed the Warriors 25-15, 25-15 and 25-16. Gannon held East Stroudsburg to a miniscule .010 hitting percentage.

“So far this year we’ve depended on our offense for the majority of our points,” coach Matt Darling said. “Today we were able to defend much better and force our opponents into some errors.”

One of the younger players who has stepped up to fill the void left has been sophomore Megan Wendel, who dished out 50 assists against Lock Haven and followed it up with 67 helpers Saturday. Her 493 assists this season has already topped her freshman total from a year ago and is among the PSAC’s leaders.

As a team, Gannon has enjoyed great efficiency this season, ranking first in the PSAC with a .280 hitting percentage while committing just 191 errors all season.

Beginning PSAC play brings with it familiarity for the Knights, who kick off PSAC West play this weekend, when they host California University of Pennsylvania Friday and Indiana University of Pennsylvania Saturday.

Sazama said the conference games bring a sense of familiarity.

“We know these teams better because we play them several times a year,” she said. “It’s better to play against them because we exchange tape with them instead of having to play them blind like we do non-conference.”

Gannon split a pair regular season matches with Indiana and Cal last season, the latter of which swept the Knights en route to the conference title in November. Friday’s game will be Gannon’s first match at home since its loss to Ohio Dominican at the beginning of the month.

 

JOE CUNEO

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