Volleyball team wins 3 of 4
The Gannon University volleyball team wrapped up its second consecutive weekend of tournament play with an almost perfect 3-1 record in the Gannon-Mercyhurst Invitational Friday and Saturday.
The Knights had a pristine start to the tournament with sweeps of West Virginia State University and Lake Erie College on Friday, led by a solid defensive effort from sophomore libero Taryn Graham, who racked up 36 digs in two matches, 23 of which were against Lake Erie.
Graham said her main goal for the weekend was to focus for every point and to pass every ball as perfectly as possible.
“I play for the hitters,” she said. “I want to pass good balls for them. You have to play for each other, not for yourself.”
Senior outside hitter Lauren Sazama led the team at the net, tallying 39 kills Friday and chipping in another 40 on Saturday, an effort that earned her the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division Player of the Week for the first time this season and fifth time of her career.
Gannon finished off Holy Family University in four sets, a match in which every Knight made an appearance in at least one set.
“One of the reasons we’re able to be successful year after year is we’re able to get people on the court, and we want to take advantage of those opportunities,” coach Matt Darling said. “I thought people did a great job.”
Darling named sophomore middle hitter Emily Meyer, freshman middle hitter Lynne Hibbard and junior defensive specialist Lexie Weissinger as players who stepped into their roles and performed well.
Senior middle hitter Sarah Glancy also said she was proud of her younger teammates’ ability to maintain composure.
“It showed that we have enough depth to win games,” she said.
The Knight nearly went for the cycle until an obstinate Ohio Dominican University outlasted them in five sets.
Darling said that the Knights struggled to close the match out, which was uncharacteristic for them during the three preceding matches.
“Their greatest strength against us was that they were willing to play five sets,” he said. “They were going to play hard as long as the match went on.”
Glancy said she thought the team was well prepared physically, but may have needed to find some mental toughness.
“We’ve conditioned really well,” she said. “I don’t think any of us were so tired we couldn’t have pushed through it, but maybe mentally we were. And that’s something we’ve been working on in practice this week.”
Darling also added that the team had pushed to finish other tight sets over the course of the weekend, namely against West Virginia State and Holy Family.
“We just needed to win one more, and we would be talking about a 4-0 weekend,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, if you would have said, ‘Hey, how about 5-2 after the first two weekends?’ I would have said deal.”
The grueling tournament weekends are something Darling said he is not fond of, but that the team will have to learn to adapt to them now in order to prepare for regional tournament play this weekend at Lock Haven University.
“We’ve got to be ready mentally for what that grind is,” he said. “It’s not ideal, and it takes a lot of toll on us, but we have to be ready to play under those types of conditions.
Despite the loss, Darling said the team learned several important lessons as a result.
“If we’re lucky enough to be up 2-0 in a match, I think it helps us focus to get that third set,” he said. “But it also shows us that we might be down 2-0 but if we steal one in the third set, you never know.”
The team will hope to carry this lesson with them as they travel to Lock Haven Friday and Saturday to play three matches – Seton Hill University, West Virginia Wesleyan College and Alderson-Broaddus College – of which Darling said they must win at least two.
“We really need to dial it in,” he said. “These teams pick off some of the teams from the conference, and we can’t be one of them.”
The team’s only two losses of the season have both been sustained at home, and Darling said he thinks this should help instill even greater determination as they travel to play at a neutral location.
“It puts us into the mindset that we have to fight for everything, which is where we need to be anyway,” he said. “It gives us a chance to say, alright, no advantage. Let’s find a way to win.”
Gannon will take on Seton Hill Friday at 5 p.m., and West Virginia Wesleyan and Alderson-Broaddus Saturday at 12 p.m. and 5 p.m., respectively.
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