Playing in a nationally-televised West Coast Conference match at home in Gersten Pavilion, the LMU volleyball team (11-7, 4-3 WCC) won the final two sets to outlast Santa Clara (8-11, 1-6 WCC) by scores of 25-17, 25-27, 13-25, 25-23, 15-12 and improve to 3-1 in five-set matches this year.
Junior Sara Kovac led the way on the attack, registering a match-best 17 kills, but LMU hit just .190 as a team. Sophomore Megan Rice added 15 kills and one ace as LMU served-up six aces, including two from sophomore Savannah Slattery. In addition to her 17 kills, Kovac also posted five block assists, helping LMU to 10 team blocks. Redshirt-freshman Alexis Morrow chipped in seven block assists, but the defensive star of the night proved to be Kristen Castellanos, as the senior covered the entire court en route to registering 21 digs.
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Sophomore Tess Reid pieced together a double-double, teaming 21 assists with 10 digs, while fellow setter Jessie Prichard managed 24 assists and eight digs to narrowly miss a double-double of her own.
Jensen Cunningham posted a double-double on the other side of the net, teaming a team-best 16 kills with 10 block assists while managing to hit .483 on 29 swings. Two other Broncos finished with double-digit kills, including Chloe Loreen with 14, and Michelle Gajdka with 13. With Cunningham leading the way, Santa Clara posted 15 team blocks.
Despite hitting just .167 on the attack, LMU came away with the opening period after holding the Broncos to a -.031 hitting clip on the other side. The Lions rode a strong blocking effort to the victory, as Morrow led the way with four block assists to go along with a set-high tying three kills. Joining Morrow on the block was Kovac, as she finished with three block assists to guide LMU to five total blocks in the first period. After playing even to six points, LMU rattled off five straight points to burn through a Santa Clara timeout and take an 11-6 lead it would not relinquish. Back-to-back Santa Clara attacking errors pushed LMU to a 21-15 lead and resulted in the second Bronco timeout of the period before LMU eventually earned the set-winner at 25-17 on Rice's third kill of the opening stanza.
Santa Clara evened the match score at one set apiece after capturing a thrilling second set, 27-25. The Broncos hit .354 behind eight kills from Loreen and five each from Cunningham and Gajdka. LMU received four kills from Slattery, Rice and Kovac, in addition to three team blocks, but the Lions could not earn claim the set. The two teams played to 11 tie scores and five lead changes, including even to 21 following a block from Morrow and Kovac. LMU spoiled the first two Bronco set-point chance at 24-23 and 25-24, including one of a block from Morrow and Slattery, but consecutive kills from Loreen finally put the Lions away and sent the teams into the locker room knotted at a set apiece.
The Broncos ran away with the third set, opening up a 7-2 lead on a block from Cunningham and Kirsten Mead and never looking back. The Lions elected to take a timeout at 12-6 following a kill from Taylor Laugero, and a Lion attack error allowed Santa Clara to reach to 20-point plateau at 20-11. The Broncos finished off the strong set by winning the final three points, with the set-winner coming by way of a Loreen service ace. The ace was one of three in the period, and marked the first three of the match for the visitors. LMU was held to a .000 hitting percentage, while Santa Clara hit .348 and recorded six blocks, including five block assists from Cunningham.
Six kills from Kovac in the fourth set helped LMU force a fifth and deciding set, as the Lions earned the 25-23 victory. Kovac connected for her six on 12 swings, but the Lions hit just .158 thanks in large part to five blocks from the Broncos. After playing even to 8-8, LMU managed to win the next three points to take an 11-8 lead. While the Lions would not surrender the lead the rest of the way, Santa Clara continued to play close, drawing within a point at 14-13 after a kill from Gajdka. Another Lion run, highlighted by a pair of Kovac kills, allowed LMU to reclaim a four-point lead at 18-14 and forced a Santa Clara timeout, but the Broncos continued to fight to within a point at 21-20. Still just a one-point set at 23-22 following a Hailey Lindberg kill, LMU fed Kovac for its final two tallies, sending the match into the race to 15.
The Lions had to play catch up in the final set, falling behind 8-3 before winning six of the next seven points to draw even at nine. A pair of kills from Rice, in conjunction with a kill and an ace from Slattery, allowed the Lions to make the run and begin the jaunt to victory. A Morrow service ace, one of three Lion aces in the finale, handed LMU the 10-9 lead and forced the final Santa Clara timeout. The lead grew to three points at 13-10 following a block from Kovac and Johnson, and Kovac continued to ride the momentum, picking up a kill to push the lead to 14-11, and one final tally to claim victory at 15-12.
LMU will remain at home in WCC play on Saturday, welcoming San Francisco to Gersten Pavilion for a Noon match.
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