SPOKANE, Wash. -- The final weekend of West Coast Conference play couldn't have gotten off to a better start for the Saint Mary's volleyball team as the Gaels swept host Gonzaga 25-12, 25-23, 25-20 at the Martin Centre late Thursday night.
With the win, Saint Mary's improves to 16-9 overall and 12-5 in WCC action. Gonzaga falls to 11-15 overall and 7-10 in conference.
Seniors Kristina Graven and Jordan Shaw were again the big hitters on the outside for Saint Mary's. Graven led the team in kills with 13 and added nine digs in the victory. Shaw continued her run of efficiency, hitting .455 en route to 12 kills.
Madelyn Hutson had a strong match in the middle with eight kills and five blocks and Dalas Dodd added 37 assists, bringing her to 1,100 for the season and tying her with Mandy Bible for ninth-most by a Gael in a single season.
"I'm proud of the way the girls came out and took it to them right from the first whistle. Gonzaga is a very good team but we sent a message early that we were there to play and play hard," Saint Mary's coach Rob Browning said. "We weathered a lull towards the end of the second set and hung tough in the third set being down by a point or two most of the way. We are very happy with their performance and exccited to play Portland on Saturday."
Thursday's match started at 9 p.m. due to an earlier men's basketball game at Gonzaga, and by the time Saint Mary's finally did get a chance to take the court, the Gaels were ready to play. A small early lead ballooned into a much bigger advantage midway through the first set when Saint Mary's used an 11-2 run to take a commanding 14-6 lead.
To build that lead, the Gaels called on a dominant early effort at the net. The middle combo of Hutson and Natalie Loos led the charge and their teammates followed suit as Saint Mary's recorded six blocks in the first set alone. The final three points of the set went SMC's way, with two coming on blocks and the final point landing on a kill off the block and out by Tinsley.
Gonzaga played its best volleyball of the match in the second set, rallying from as much as a seven-point deficit to come within one at 22-21 Saint Mary's. A kill by Shaw ended a five point Bulldogs run though, re-establishing command in the Gaels' corner. The teams traded points from that point until the end of the set, and an attack error by Gonzaga ended things with Saint Mary's earning the win.
The third set remained close for quite a while, and Gonzaga forged ahead when a three-point swing put the Bulldogs up 17-15. Saint Mary's answered quickly, with a kill by Loos, ace by Dodd, attack error on Gonzaga and a kill by Shaw putting the Gaels up 19-17 and forcing the Bulldogs to call time out.
That only delayed SMC's road to victory, and after Gonzaga scored the first point out of the stoppage, Saint Mary's went on to score four of the next five points. Graven had two kills in the run, and a kill by Hutson made it 23-19 and forced another Gonzaga time out. Saint Mary's scored the final two points of the match on a kill by Tinsley and a block by Hutson and Dodd, giving the Gaels the quick road win.
Saint Mary's will take a short plane ride Friday and be back in action Saturday as it takes on Portland at 1 p.m. on the final day of WCC competition. The Pilots fell in five sets to Pacific on Thursday and will host their Senior Day festivities on Saturday. Links to live streaming video and live statistics are available on SMCGaels.com.