Senior core drops first PSAC matchup

Senior leadership is always important in collegiate athletics.  The Gannon volleyball team’s senior “core four” of Taryn Graham, Emily Carver, Maggie Desrosiers and Megan Wendel led the Knights to their best start since 2003 with 13 straight wins.

That streak ended Tuesday against the host Mercyhurst Lakers as the Knights dropped the final three sets of the match, 3-2.

Despite Tuesday’s loss, coach Matt Darling, now in his seventh year at the helm, understands the value of senior leadership and attributes a part of the team’s early success toward the “core four.”

“The seniors know what we do and how we do it,” Darling said prior to Tuesday’s matchup.  “They have been great about making sure that things are the way they should be – on and off the court.”

Graham, a four-year starter and defensive specialist has played in more than 100 matches and nearly 400 sets in her career.

The libero – like the other seniors – has been a part of a PSAC championship team in 2012 and has won 82 matches and counting.

Graham stressed the importance of controlling how Gannon plays and not worrying so much about the opponent.

“This season we have really focused on our game rather than over-analyzing the other team,” Graham said.  “It has been successful for us and is the blueprint to our great start.”

That great start included two wins last weekend.  The Knights defeated Slippery Rock and Edinboro, which both had unblemished conference records.

The weekend also played host to Family Weekend on the campus of Gannon University and that made the games a little more special for the athletes.

“It’s fun to be able to show our family and friends what we have been working for since preseason this summer,” Graham said.

“I think they were able to see all the hard work we have put into this team.”

The example has been set by the senior players and the rest of the Knights volleyball team has followed suit.

Darling knows the path will be difficult as the season progresses but has laid the foundation for success.

“There is certainly a connection between how our seniors carry themselves and how we are playing,” Darling said.

The Knights were playing superbly before running into rival Mercyhurst Tuesday night.

“They are a tough team that has played, at times, better than anyone in the PSAC,” Darling said of Mercyhurst.

The rebellious Lakers rallied after losing two close sets to Gannon 29-27 and 25-23 and strung together sets of 25-17, 25-13 and 15-13.

The Knights fought through a rowdy student crowd and a lengthy five minute delay in the fourth set after the referees sorted out a Gannon rotation error.

The Knights still sit atop the PSAC standings with a 6-1 conference record and a 13-1 overall mark.

Gannon volleyball is back in action Friday when the Knights travel to powerhouse Clarion University, which comes into the match with an equally impressive 14-1 record.  Game time is set for 7 p.m.

ADAM BLAZEK

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