Volleyball team ready for final stretch
MATTHEW ROBERSON | SPORTS EDITOR | THE USD VISTA | @mroberson22
The Pacific Northwest is a corner of our country typically associated with rain, evergreen trees, and friendliness. Visitors to the region remark on the fresh air and overall good atmosphere. However, the University of San Diego volleyball team came away from a weekend stop in Washington and Oregon with a cloudy disposition.
After winning a match in Spokane against the Gonzaga University Bulldogs on Nov. 12, the Toreros had a quick turnaround for their meeting with the Portland Pilots two days later. This clash of conference opponents did not go as well as the previous one. USD fell to their rival from Portland by a 3-0 score.
The No. 23 ranked team in the AVCA Coaches Poll, the Toreros had high expectations for the northwest expedition. Carrying a top 25 ranking signifies a nationwide recognition for the university’s volleyball program. Head coach Jennifer Petrie addressed her team’s ranking as a nice recognition, but not a tangible goal of anyone in the program.
“The top 25 poll is a nice affirmation,” Petrie said. “But regardless of where we stand we always know that the goal is not in the ranking but in the championship. It certainly helps in notoriety, recruiting, and creating a competitive culture.”
Unfortunately, the squad was unable to play up to that honor bestowed on them by America’s top volleyball coaches. The loss to the Pilots was the team’s first loss in conference play to an opponent other than the Brigham Young University Cougars. Their 19-8 overall record is currently good for a second place tie with the University of Santa Clara Broncos in the West Coast Conference. The Broncos and Toreros share identical 12-3 records against fellow WCC schools. Sitting behind BYU in the standings gives Petrie a great appreciation for their style of play.
“BYU is a well balanced team,” Petrie said. “But they also have one player in particular that can carry a match with her offensive play. In addition, they are a very strong blocking team which slows down the production of some of our attackers.”
The positive start to the road trip also served as a milestone for the USD athletics department. With the 3-2 win at Gonzaga the program earned its 40th consecutive win against the Bulldogs. It was a triumph that came after a fair share of drama and heart-racing action.
In the decisive fifth set, Gonzaga jumped out to a 13-11 lead. After using their last timeout the Toreros turned up the heat and went on a run which would eventually put them on top for good. Junior Lauren Schad was instrumental in the comeback. Following the timeout taken when the score reached 13-11, Schad recorded a kill which sparked the furious rally to victory.
Schad’s key kill was immediately supported by a block to even the score at 13. Dave Gantt, head coach of the Bulldogs, used a timeout of his own. It did little to change his team’s fortunes. Schad continued her great day with two blocks in a row to give her team the final two points of the match. At the time, it was USD’s third straight win.
That mini-winning streak came to an end on Nov. 14. The stunning loss at the Chiles Center in Portland brought an end to a string of 47 wins in a row versus the only WCC school located in Oregon. Redshirt junior Lisa Kramer was the player of the match for the Toreros, posting 17 kills to go along with her three digs and two blocks. Ultimately it was not enough to propel her team to their 48th consecutive conquest of the Pilots, who sport a 15-12 record.
A look ahead on the schedule shows only three more matches for the 2015 season. All three of these will be played at home and have major implications regarding the conference standings. The trio of matches begins on Nov. 19 when the University of San Francisco Dons come to town. Then, the two schools battling USD near the top of the WCC will make an appearance at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. Coach Petrie explained that her team has been through a lot to reach this position of competing for a conference championship.
“The team has worked very hard to make improvements, adjustments, and even positional changes over the course of the season,” Petrie said. “Conference play always raises the level of intensity since our goal is always to win the WCC championship.”
Beginning with the Broncos and ending with the Loyola Marymount University Lions, the set of matches to be played before Thanksgiving should have the JCP stuffed. The Nov. 21 date with Santa Clara will feature the two teams knotted together in second place behind BYU.
Loyola Marymount is lurking behind in fourth place with respectable records of 20-8 overall and 11-5 in matchups with West Coast foes. This tangle with the Lions will also be Senior Day; three players will be taking the court in San Diego for the final time. Seniors Caila Stapleton, Canace Finley, and Ryann Powell will bring the extra emotions of their final home match to an event that was sure to already be high in intensity.
Along with that, the duel with the Lions will undoubtedly have a forceful impact on the final standings in the West Coast Conference.