MORAGA, Calif. -- Lauren Corp, Gabby Jolly, Anna Schroeder and Missy White began their volleyball careers at Saint Mary’s College with high expectations, wanting to bring success to a program that had never won a conference title.
Little did they know, they would leave as one of the most successful classes in school history.
The foursome of seniors now leads Saint Mary's into the postseason for the second time as active players, as the Gaels prepare to take on San Diego State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday at 5 p.m. in Los Angeles.
The foundation they helped set in 2009 with a West Coast Conference title has turned into consistent success over the last four years. This year, it led to a third-place conference finish and spot in the postseason.
“This senior class came in as freshmen and contributed to our first WCC championship,” said head coach Rob Browning. “They staked a claim to Saint Mary's volleyball history right off the bat. They have definitely put their stamp on their legacy with success on the court and also in the classroom."
The 2012 season began with high goals, with all four seniors hoping to return to the NCAA Tournament. Every player from a successful 2011 team returned for the Gaels, but they struggled early on after being plagued by injuries. At one point, the team lost four matches in a row saw its record fall to under .500.
“We were definitely tested in the pre-conference season,” said Browning. “Playing those matches was good for us because it made us work hard and gave us a perspective that made us feel like we had to step up just to keep up.”
Things began to turn around in the heart of conference play. The Gaels won three matches in a row, including back-to-back victories against nationally ranked Pepperdine and BYU.
“We had a few tough losses in conference,” said Jolly. “But all of those matches made us that much more determined to prove to ourselves that we are just as good, if not better than those teams and any team in the nation.”
After defeating No.13-ranked San Diego in a nail-biting finish, the Gaels found themselves ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Top 25 for the first time all season. A loss to Pepperdine knocked Saint Mary's from the national rankings, but the Gaels finished the regular season on a four-game win streak to finish 12-4 in WCC play.
Jolly earned All-WCC First Team honors after leading the Gaels in blocks per set (1.17) and a hitting percentage of .370. Corp earned her fourth All-WCC team selection when she was named to the Honorable Mention squad after finishing second on the team with 3.17 kills per set.
“As seniors, we have seen what it takes to be a team that wins conference and do well in the tournament,” Jolly said. “Having experienced that together makes us that much closer and makes us want to get our teammates back to that level. I can't imagine being on this journey with any other girls.”