After taking two victories against Edinboro and Slippery Rock over the weekend, the Gannon University volleyball team saw rival Mercyhurst next in its path for a PSAC regular-season title.
One of Gannon’s two losses this year came at the hands of the Lakers in late September after the Knights let a 2-0 lead slip away.
But this time around, the Knights were determined to avoid a similar fate.
“Our focus compared to last game (against Mercyhurst) is much simpler,” sophomore Hannah Kren said before Tuesday night’s match. “We are focusing on playing hard and winning our individual match ups. If we have an intense effort and mindset throughout the whole game, then we will win.”
And win they did.
Gannon (23-2, 16-2) used a rowdy Dig Pink home crowd to beat The Hurst in four sets. The match was a battle from the beginning as the Knights won the first two sets 27-25 and 26-24. Mercyhurst (16-10, 11-7) then tried to rally like it did a month ago – but Gannon would have none of it.
The Lakers won the third set 25-18 but were finished off 25-22 on a late-game play set up for freshman outside hitter Kelsey Ansec.
Gannon coach Matt Darling used some misdirection as many of the Mercyhurst players were keying on established Knights Kren and Lynne Hibbard all game.
“With Hannah and Lynne in the front row, they wouldn’t really expect Kelsey to take the shot,” Darling said. “We needed a point and she took a big swing at it. It’s a heck of a moment for a freshman.”
Ansec sealed the win with the clutch spike and sent the nearly 500 fans back to their dorms and houses pleased.
Gannon dropped its very first set at home this season, but used that heavy home-court advantage to take another step toward the No. 1 seed in the PSAC tournament. Kren is 23-2 in her career at the Hammermill Center and knows the importance of a great playing environment.
“Playing at the Mill is a definite advantage for our team,” Kren said. “We are incredibly comfortable on our court and the atmosphere from a big crowd gets all of us very excited to play.
“It creates a drive for us to want to win not only for coach and the team, but for everyone that comes to watch.”
Before getting to Mercyhurst, Gannon had to go through a tough road test at Edinboro, where the Fighting Scots were on the doorstep to beating one of the best teams in the PSAC. The match opened up with a lopsided first-set loss to Edinboro 25-13.
The Knights rallied in the second set with a 25-20 win but then dropped the third set and faced a late-season road loss. Resiliency and a little bit of luck kept the Knights alive and headed into a fifth set. The battle continued but Gannon fought from behind for an 18-16 fifth set, and match win.
“We feel very fortunate to get a win Friday because we were outcoached and often outplayed,” Darling said. “But sometimes you just have to accept a win, just like sometimes you have to accept a loss after a good performance. We have been on both sides and we are grateful for every point we got.”
The Knights then traveled to Slippery Rock and swept 3-0 for their 12th straight win over The Rock. Gannon will return to the Hammermill Center for a pair of games this weekend — the next-to-last weekend of the regular season — taking on Indiana (Pa.) at 7 p.m. Friday and then meeting Clarion at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Clarion enters play this weekend with a one-game lead over the Knights and will play Mercyhurst Friday night before Saturday’s PSAC showdown.