LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Down two sets to none against San Diego State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Saint Mary's volleyball team never gave quitting a brief consideration.
Three sets later, the Gaels' belief in themselves turned into a win they'll likely talk about for years to come.
A Kristina Graven kill provided the final point as Saint Mary's beat San Diego State 17-25, 23-25, 25-23, 25-22, 15-12 to advance to Friday's second round.
"The significance for me is just that this team was able to dig down deep and pull it out," Saint Mary's coach Rob Browning said. "It wasn't pretty, they had to scrap and fight and claw and they were able to do that."
The fifth set went like much of the rest of the match, with Saint Mary's (18-10) having to claw for every point.
Trailing 11-10, an attempt by San Diego State went wide, tying the match. After another point by the Aztecs, the Gaels finished things from there, scoring the last four points, including one that featured an outstanding display of defense by a scrambling Saint Mary's bunch.
That Saint Mary's managed to come back from such a deficit spoke to the character of a team that has fought through injuries and adversity all season.
"We went to the locker room and we were kind of down and we needed a little pep talk among the players," said senior Missy White. "We got up and said it's all or nothing at this point."
The win sends Saint Mary's to the second round, where the Gaels will play host USC. That match will start at 7 p.m. at the Galen Center.
Graven finished with a season-high 23 kills to lead Saint Mary's statistically. She hit at a .407 clip and added a team-high 17 digs as well. Jordan Shaw added 11 kills, Dalas Dodd had 28 assists and Samantha Tinsley chipped in with nine kills.
San Diego State (23-8) used a 5-0 run to start the match to establish early control. The Aztecs maintained the lead throughout the set, never letting the Gaels get closer than three points and going ahead by as many as 10.
A block by Gabby Jolly and Lauren Corp provided Saint Mary's final point of the set, but San Diego State closed it out shortly thereafter, winning 25-17.
The Gaels proved much sharper in the second set, holding the lead for most of the frame. Tinsley and Graven were the main aggressors, finding holes in the San Diego State defense for multiple points.
Eventually though, San Diego State managed to pull even. After tying it up at 18-18, the Aztecs pulled into a slim lead. A kill by Andrea Hannasch brought the set to a close, with San Diego State winning 25-23.
Saint Mary's again looked ready to break through in the third set, relying on the offensive duo of Graven and Shaw to go up by as many as six early in the set.
San Diego State pulled ahead midway through the set, but the Gaels weren't nearly finished. Freshman Katie Reininger provided a lift off the bench, and Shaw kept on firing from outside to put Saint Mary's back on top. The set ended 25-23 in favor of the Gaels, with the final point coming on a thunderous kill by Shaw.
"I think our servers at that point did a great job," Graven said. "We started hitting our serves and playing our game and I think that helped us a lot because it got them out of their system and we could play our defense better and that got us a lot more opportunities."
Shaw wasn't the only sparkplug for the Gaels.R eininger came off the bench to play a huge role, making several key plays throughout the match.
"Katie's the ray of sunshine, no matter what. It could be the end of the world and she'd be giving high fives to everyone," Browning said. "She killed a ball right away, then she got a couple key blocks that were really important."
The teams battled back and forth in the fourth, with the defense of Jolly and Graven's offense keeping the Gaels in it. San Diego State managed to pull ahead at 16-15, but Saint Mary's fought back to tie it at 21 on a kill from Graven.
It was all Gaels for the rest of the set. Two huge aces from Shaw proved clutch, and Jolly threw down a kill put the exclamation point on a 25-22 win for Saint Mary's.
"Lots of credit to San Diego State. They're a great team," Browning said. "I know Deitre (Collins-Parker), she's a very good coach and prepared their team very well. They're scrappy, a bunch of fighters. I'm very impressed with them. That's absolutely a quality win for us."