Volleyball moves to top of PSAC West
The Gannon University women’s volleyball team nudged Clarion University over, joining the Golden Eagles at the top of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference after defeating both the Golden Eagles and Slippery Rock University this weekend.
The Knights defeated Clarion in straight sets Friday by scores of 25-20, 25-11 and 25-18. They continued their rout of PSAC opponents by also sweeping the Rock Saturday, giving coach Matt Darling his 100th career win with scores of 25-16, 25-22 and 25-21.
According to Darling, the team won the matches in different ways.
“We which the Clarion match not because of offense so much, which is where we’ve usually been stronger this year, but because we served really well and we passed really, really well,” he said. “We were just in system enough to keep them off balance at all times.”
Gannon, which was kept to hitting an uncharacteristically low 18 percent, was also hindered by Clarion’s ability to keep the dominant Lauren Sazama in check, as she finished with 11 kills. However, the team was able to mirror Clarion’s strategy by allowing the conference’s leading attacker, middle hitter Rebecca Webb, to a single kill with five hitting errors.
“We totally shut her down,” Darling said. “She’s been the one helping them to win matches, and we just completely took her out of it.”
Sophomore libero Taryn Graham said that beating the former outright conference leader was made possible by approaching the match with the right mindset.
“We were really focused,” she said. “Coach [Darling] kept telling us the whole game to play for each other, and that’s really what we did.”
Graham said that she does not think the team will feel any added pressure as they share the top conference spot with Clarion.
“If anything it just gets us more excited and focused to do well,” she said.
Against Slippery Rock, the Knights were back to playing their strong, offensive-based game, as they hit 38 percent, one of their highest hitting percentages of the season as they handily defeated the Rock.
Gannon now sits at 11-2 in the PSAC as it reaches the halfway mark of conference play. Beginning the second cycle in which they will face each PSAC opponent for a second time, the Knights will get a chance to avenge their only two losses to California University of Pennsylvania and Mercyhurst University.
According to Graham, the Knights will be successful in their remaining matches if they continue to play the way they did Friday against Clarion.
Darling added that he thinks the team needs to focus on the present.
“We have an interesting dynamic where we have three home and three road games left,” he said. “Cal and IUP this weekend is our toughest road stretch. I really feel like we just have to take matches one at a time. If we can just keep that mentality the rest of the way, I think we’re going to end up in good shape.”
He also said that staying healthy throughout the rest of the season will give the team an advantage over others, as this is something that is difficult for teams to do at this point in the season.
“We’ve had to rest some people here and there, but for the most part we’ve been reasonably healthy,” he said. “Our goal is not necessarily to win the outright regular season [PSAC] championship, which counts for nothing – we’re trying to get a good seed so that we can make a run in the tournament.”
The Knights will look to get one step closer to a high tournament seed as they travel to Indiana and California universities of Pennsylvania, respectively, for a 7 p.m. match Friday and a 2 p.m. match Saturday.
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