Trailing two sets to none, the Gonzaga University women's volleyball team picked up its first West Coast Conference victory of the year after a thrilling 3-2 (19-25, 19-25, 26-24, 25-20, 17-15) rally to shock Loyola Marymount University Thursday in the Martin Centre.
"Our coaching staff is so proud of the way everyone battled tonight," head coach Dave Gantt said. "It was not the way we scripted but everyone left it out there. These youngsters have put in a lot of hard work to play at a level we did. Tonight was a combination of many things that capped off in a comeback."
After LMU (7-5, 2-1 WCC) claimed the first two forgettable frames, the Bulldogs (5-7, 1-2 WCC) began a fashionably charge in the third behind the offensive power of redshirt sophomore Savannah Blinn.
"Savannah stepped tonight, big time," Gantt stated. "She got some huge transition points for us at the end. Big time players step up in big moments. Kudos to her and the rest of team that put her positions to be effective."
In the decisive three sets the Bulldogs won, Blinn totaled 15 of her 18 kills.
Back to the third set, GU found itself in a tie at 22. Redshirt freshman Imani Wimbush delivered one of her six kills and was followed by a Meredith Crenshaw attack to give the Bulldogs a slight edge 24-23. The Zags took its first set of the evening on after back-to-back kills from senior Kristina Lavrisha.
"I knew we had a chance if we could pass serve," Gantt explained. "We did not do that in the first two sets like we can or should. We had no rhythm early on but we turned it around in the third. Our group responded well to some change. We were able to side out and defend well. That is when things took off for us."
The back-and-forth affair continued to play out in the fourth. Blinn added five kills in the set but GU found itself in another late tie at 15. Kills from Lavrisha and a service ace from Kathleen Wright pushed the Bulldogs momentum to a 21-18 lead. Blinn finished off the set for Gonzaga forcing the match to the win or go home fifth set.
"I thought we played our best in the fourth set," Gantt said. "We started to believe that we could do it. I told them that they are now in the big league. We cannot be shy or afraid and that they needed to go for it. One side needed to take charge and it was our group."
GU jumped on the Lions early in the fifth set. Loyola Marymount trailed 6-3 before showing some fight to tie the set at eight. The Bulldogs benefited from a couple LMU attack errors and built its lead back to 11-8 but once again the Lions would not go away.
Loyola Marymount would take a late 13-12 lead making the situation appear grim for the Zags but in a gutsy performance the Bulldogs fought back. Blinn added three kills to tie the frame at 15. The comeback was completed on a Blinn kill and an attack error from Lion Kathleen Luft.
"There were a couple tough points there at the end," Gantt said. "We hope that this feeds us as the season continues. But lots of credit needs to be given to LMU. That is a quality team that battled all night."
Luft, the reigning WCC Player of the Week, finished with a match-high 24 kills for the Lions.
The comeback marks the first WCC victory at home for the Bulldogs since Oct. 13, 2011 over University of Portland. Additionally, the win is the first over LMU since Nov. 11, 2010 in Spokane.
Blinn was the lone Bulldog with double-digit kills. Six Zags finished with four or more kills and Wimbush had the second most (six). Lyndsay Palmer handled the majority of the setting for GU with 21 assists on the night. Libero Kathleen Wright picked up another service ace and 13 digs.
"We have a bunch of young kids who are hungry to do the right thing," Gantt said. "The more they begin to trust themselves the more positive things will happen. No quit tonight and that tells you a lot about the personality of this group."
Gonzaga is now 2-2 in matches that go to five sets.
GU resumes its home stand Saturday at Pepperdine University comes to town. The match is set for a 12 p.m. start in the Martin Centre.
Courtesy: Gonzaga Sports Information