VB | Gaels Open WCC Play In Pacific Northwest
MORAGA, Calif. — The 2017 West Coast Conference season opens this week for all 10 WCC teams and the Saint Mary's women's volleyball team will kick off its pursuit in the Pacific Northwest, facing Gonzaga and Portland on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
Thurs., Sept. 21, 6 p.m. – Saint Mary's (4-6) at Gonzaga (5-7)
Sat., Sept. 23, 1 p.m. – Saint Mary's (4-6) at Portland (9-3)
LAST TIME OUT
Saint Mary's (4-6) wrapped up its non-conference schedule last weekend with two more power programs, traveling to East Bay rival California and hosting defending national champion No. 4 Stanford. The Gaels played both of them close, dropping five of seven sets by four points or less, including two by only two points. But the Golden Bears and the Cardinal both escaped with the close wins.
ABOUT SAINT MARY'S
The Gaels' (4-6) arduous non-conference schedule included six 2016 NCAA Tournament teams, five Power Five conference opponents and four nationally ranked programs. In six matches versus tourney teams from a year ago, SMC was within five points in 15 of 21 sets played.
Payton Rund has emerged as the Gaels' leading hitter with a team-best 79 kills. Though the Gaels have five players with more than 50 kills already, including Morgan Hughes, who leads the team with a .376 hitting percentage. Hughes also leads the team in total blocks (37) and is one of three Gaels with at least 10 service aces.
The Bulldogs (5-7) played in four consecutive non-conference tournaments to prepare for WCC play. They were winless on Opening Weekend, but have won at least once in each tournament since then. Gonzaga went 2-1 with a win over Arizona State in their home tournament on Sept. 1-2.
Kaylie Loewen leads the Bulldogs with 119 kills (2.70 per set) and a .307 attack percentage. Defensive specialist Marit Thorkildsen is the team's best server with 13 aces and leads GU with 145 digs (3.54 per set). Opponents have blocked Gonzaga 109 times in 12 matches. GU is hitting .168 as a team while opponents hit .223.
The Pilots (9-3) started 2017 5-0 and have gone 4-3 since then. They share common victories with SMC over Fresno State (3-1) and CSUN (3-1). Portland has played half of their matches at home already, going 4-2. Five of its nine victories have come via a sweep.
Reghan Pukis (176 kills) and Hannah Troutman (167 kills) lead the Pilots' attack. Liz Reich has had the most success, hitting at a .302 clip with 93 kills. Cali Thompson has carried the weight of setting to the tune of 491 assists (11.16 per set). She also has a team-best 16 service aces. Five Pilots have at least 11 aces while the team boasts 75 (1.70 per set).
DÉJÀ VU OPENER?
Saint Mary's started the 2016 WCC season by topping Gonzaga in Moraga. Four different Gaels had double-figure kills while the defense held the Bulldogs to just .087 hitting. Gonzaga won the first set, 28-26, but the Gaels powered back with three straight set victories to win, 3-1.
Saint Mary's returns home for a single WCC game on Tuesday versus rival San Francisco before heading to Southern California for conference matches versus Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine on Sept. 28 and 30, respectively.
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