Moraga, CA - Saturday afternoon's match at McKeon Pavilion showed why Saint Mary's and San Diego are the top-two teams in the conference. With the WCC Championship on the line, the Gaels (19-4/11-1 WCC) outdueled the Toreros (16-7/8-4 WCC) in a five set barn-burner (25-18, 25-19, 20-25, 17-25, and 15-10) that featured 30 ties and 10 lead changes. In the end, the Gaels strong play won out, capturing the programs first ever West Coast Conference Championship. With the win, Saint Mary's improves to 10-0 at home, and 3-0 in matches that go to five sets,
When asked what sets this team apart from other great teams, head coach Rob Browning had this to say. "I think what sets this team apart, because we have had great players ever since we've been here, who are very deserving of winning the conference. This team is deep, and they are very tight as far as team chemistry goes, extremely talented, and they understand what it takes to accomplish something like this. The seniors know, they've been through a lot, and through years that have not been as successful as this, and they have seen where they have fallen short, and they've helped teach the team and show the team what it takes to win. The junior class is really a big part of that too, they know what it takes to accomplish something big like this, and they have paid the price. It hasn't happened just because we are the most talented team out there, or because of some other happenstance, it happened because they paid the price the entire year, every year for a long time."
Saint Mary's received a total team effort on the day, as the Gaels notched a .342 hitting percentage, with three players notching double-digit kills. Leading the Gaels, was junior middle blocker Shannon Lowell, who added to her outstanding season, notching a career-high with 23 kills. Lowell's line on for the afternoon was 23 kills on 42 swings for a .381 hitting percentage, she also notched four digs and three total blocks.
Senior middle blocker Megan Burton also had a tremendous performance, notching a season-high 14 kills on 20 swings for a .600 hitting percentage. Burton also recorded eight total blocks, in one of the biggest matches in school history.
When asked about winning the championship in her senior year Burton had this to say, "Wow, I'm speechless right now, because that's how I feel, I'm so happy and so elated, not only for myself but for my teammates, we've sacrificed so much, and we've worked so hard to get to this point, and it all came together. We were up two games, we came out kind of struggled, and San Diego came out ready to fight, and they fought us. I think it's a testament to our character, and we just decided we are going to finish it out, this is the perfect opportunity, we are at home, it's my senior year, along with Lauren Jackel's and Alita Fisher's and there was no way we were walking off that court without the conference championship."
Fellow senior Alita Fisher had an outstanding day as well, recording 16 digs, keeping several key rallies alive with her strong play, she also notched six assists. Setting the table for SMC was freshman Missy White who recorded 34 assists, while adding a career-high five kills, all of which came at crucial points in the match. Junior setter Kapua Kamana'o notched 25 assists, with two aces and three digs.
Lauren Corp recorded 13 kills on 37 attempts for a .297 hitting percentage, with one ace and nine digs. Lauren Jaeckel recorded eight kills on 19 attempts for a .263 hitting percentage with two total blocks. Megan York notched six kills, with 12 digs, and Chanteal Satele rounded out the scoring with five kills and four digs with two total blocks.
To open the match, the Gaels came out hungry taking the opening sets, 25-18 and 25-19. SMC was propelled early by the strong play from Burton, Lowell and Corp, as the three combined for 22 kills. The Gaels hit .412 and .390 in the opening frames, while holding the Toreros to under .215 in both sets, in doing so they also limited the effectiveness of Ali Troost and Torey Ellick.
Following the break, the Toreros came out hungry, taking the third and fourth set. Saint Mary's battled but couldn't keep USD from forcing a fifth set. USD was propelled by Troost, who recorded 17 kills, most of which came in the later sets. The difference in the middle sets, was the Gaels hitting percentage, SMC hit just .286 in the third set, and .194 in the fourth set, while USD hit over .400 and .350 respectively.
In the fifth and final set, Saint Mary's displayed their killer instinct, opening up a 4-0 lead and forcing USD to use a timeout. Following the Torero timeout, Lauren Jaeckel notched her second kill of the set putting the Gaels up 5-0. A kill by Lowell put the Gaels up 6-1. San Diego scored two points to cut the lead to four, 6-2 following a USD service ace. SMC responded scoring three straight, capped by a big block from Burton and Corp. After a brief Torero run, Lowell sealed the match with an emphatic kill down the line, 15-10 Saint Mary's.
The No. 23 Gaels return to the hardwood on Thursday, November 19 when Gonzaga comes to town for a 7:00 PM match at McKeon Pavilion.