by Emilio Buenrostro | Assistant Sports Editor
The Saint Mary’s volleyball team opened their 2013 WCC campaign just the way they had hoped, sweeping the University of Portland in three sets, 25-23, 25-10 and 25-19.
Coming off a disappointing tournament in the Ameritas Players Challenge in Lincoln, Nebraska the previous week, the Gaels were out to open their conference season with a bang.
Many came out to support in McKeon Pavilion, as Saint Mary’s played host to the visiting Pilots.
Much like their previous win against Iowa State, the Gaels’ offense was most influential, with seniors Jordan Shaw and Kristina Graven fueling the attack with 13 kills and 12 kills, respectively.
The first set was tightly contested. The two teams were testing each other out early on, as they went back and forth. It wasn’t until the Pilots owned an 11-9 lead when Saint Mary’s began to take control of the set.
Shaw was there to ignite the run, recording two aces that gave the Gaels a comfortable lead.
However, Portland would not back down easily, tying the set at 23 apiece. Through much as they have showcased throughout the season, Saint Mary’s has been clutch in nail biting scenarios, which has helped them capture close sets.
With kills from juniors Danica Mendivil and Rachel Gillcrist, the Gaels would go on to win the set.
The story of the second set was much the same as the first, with Saint Mary’s sparking an offensive arsenal to run away with the set.
Portland proved tough to defeat in the third, but Saint Mary’s offensive attack was too much to contain for the Pilots.The win marked the Gaels’ first win in West Coast Conference play.
However, they would face a tough test the next day against the 8th ranked team in the nation, the Stanford Cardinals. The 2012 Pac-12 Champions would be Saint Mary’s toughest competition as to date.
Although they were going against one of the nation’s top teams, the Gaels weren’t intimidated, and their play showed it.
The Gaels entered Maples Pavilion confidently, hoping to ride off the momentum they had generated from their match against the Pilots.
The Cardinals began the game strong, owning a 10-7 lead early on.
Saint Mary’s was able to shorten Stanford’s lead a bit, but they weren’t able to overcome their deficit, losing 25-17.
The second set was arguably the most intensive set of the match, as both teams were neck and neck throughout the match, as both teams were tied at 23 apiece.
The clutch Gaels that we had become so accustomed to seeing throughout the season began to show, as they would receive a kill from Mendivil to help them capture the set, 25-23.
The third and fourth sets showed great resiliency from the Gaels, however, they would find themselves trailing early in both and wouldn’t be able to recover from the deficits, losing 25-21, 25-22, and ultimately the match.
The loss would be short-lived, with a much-anticipated match against the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday.
It was the Gaels’ third game in three nights, and coming off a valiant effort against the number 8-ranked team in the nation, Saint Mary’s wanted to stay in the win column.
They were able to accomplish just that, as they beat the Bulldogs in dominating fashion, 25-20, 25-21, 20-25, 25-22.
Just like two days before, the Gaels thrived off their offense.
Graven led the way with 18 kills in the match, with junior middle blocker Madelyn Hutson recording 15 kills.
Although offense has been a staple point in most of their wins thus far, the Gaels also played a strong defensive game, with help from junior outside hitter Samantha Tinsley and senior libero Sarah Reams.
The win helped the Gaels stay undefeated in conference play, as they now currently own a 6-4 record (2-0 WCC).
Up next for Saint Mary’s is a two-game road trip against BYU on Thursday, September 26, at 6 p.m., and against San Diego on Saturday, September 28, at 1 p.m.