Host Gannon moves to PSAC semifinals

After splitting the season series with both teams defending home court, Gannon and Mercyhurst universities met to settle the score in the pivotal first round of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference playoffs Tuesday.

Gannon, which is hosting the PSAC West tournament, emerged as the victor by defeating rival Mercyhurst in straight sets, with scores of 25-18, 25-21 and a come-from-behind 26-24 third set to seal the win.

Senior outside hitter Morgan Reineke said this match had been accumulating a lot of hype.

“It’s Mercyhurst,” she said. “The intensity, the competition are there before we even step on the court. It’s a grudge match.”

The energy in the Hammermill Center was palpable, as the vocal crowd was full of both Gannon and Mercyhurst supporters. The tension broke during the second set, when first Gannon coach Matt Darling was flagged with a yellow card, and Mercyhurst coach Ryan Patton was saddled with one barely three points later.

According to Reineke, the calls only served to build the intensity of the already heated match.

“Coach getting a yellow card, it just pumps you up,” she said. “When the crowd gets loud, it builds so much energy in the gym, and we love it.”

Fellow senior outside hitter Lauren Sazama also said the tide turned in the Knights’ favor following the yellow cards.

“We had to come from behind, and I think the crowd and the yellow cards boosted our energy,” she said.

Both teams pulled out all the stops defensively, engaging in full pursuit and laying out for even the most poorly shanked balls. Darling said he has been pleased with Gannon’s effort level.

“We’ve never had a team come together and play so hard for each other,” he said. “It’s been fun.”

Prior to taking on their first conference tournament match, the Knights finished out regular season play Thursday and Saturday with 3-set sweeps over Slippery Rock and Clarion universities in the Hammermill Center.

The senior night match on Saturday lived up to its name, as the three Gannon seniors – Sazama, Reineke and middle blocker Sarah Glancy –  accounted for 37 of the team’s 46 kills against the Golden Eagles. Reineke said the match was one that she had been looking forward to for a long time.

“It’s always something you think about when you’re a freshman, and it just seems so far away, and all of a sudden it’s here,” she said. “We came out and played the best we’ve ever played all season.”

Darling said that this group of seniors has had a huge impact on the team and program as a whole.

“They [the seniors] have done so much to enable the turnaround of this program, and it’s not just the stats and wins,” he said. “As I told them on Saturday, I’m grateful that we’re not done for a few more weeks. I’m not ready for this year to end.”

The Knights will continue their PSAC tournament run at 7:30 Friday against Shippensburg University in the Hammermill.

Darling said he feels confident the team is in a good position going into this semifinal match.

“We’re to the point now where we are, at times, clicking in pretty much every area of the game,” he said. “We’ll continue to try to sharpen up our offense and make tactical adjustments based on our opponents, but I think we’ve addressed the big things enough to make a post-season run.

“We’ll be ready.”

 

CHRISTINE PEFFER

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