Firsts have GU feelin’ good
Zags gain momentum, confidence
First things first.
First win over Loyola Marymount since 2010. First road win over San Francisco since 2007 and first win over the Dons since 2009. First win at Santa Clara since 2009. First 2-0 WCC road trip since 1994.
The conference season is only six matches old, but Gonzaga volleyball has positioned itself for its best season in a long time.
GU (7-8, 3-3) is in the middle of the WCC standings following road wins last week over USF and Santa Clara, teams just above and below the Bulldogs. Gonzaga hasn’t finished higher than fifth since 1994.
“It’s validating on a number of levels,” fifth-year coach Dave Gantt said. “First, the effort the kids are putting it to get this ship righted and continued in the right direction. We’ve been knocking on the door for a little while, last year before Savannah (Blinn) got hurt and this season we’ve been putting together a match of some significance most weekends.
“It finally happened where we put back-to-back matches together and it makes it that more exciting because we have such a young group.”
Blinn, a Lewiston High product, was named WCC Player of the Week, the first Bulldog to receive the honor in at least 13 years. Blinn’s 243 kills is tied for first with Portland’s Autumn Wedan and her .338 hitting percentage ranks fifth.
The Bulldogs, who visit last-place Portland on Saturday, aren’t where they want to be but their progress is evident. They took Washington, ranked No. 1 before losing to Colorado on Friday, to five sets in August. The WCC, which sent six of nine teams to the NCAAs last year, is tough. San Diego, No. 2 in the polls last month, is ranked 12th but tied for third in the WCC.
“I’d certainly like to think it provides us with a lot of momentum and more confidence,” Gantt said of the 2-0 road trip. “You keep doing the same things you did when you were trying to make it happen and that’s just train hard and focus on the next play.”
Cougs back home
Washington State (14-3, 1-3) tries to snap a two-game losing streak when it entertains No. 16 Arizona State on Friday, the first of four straight home matches.
“So many unforced errors, especially on the road, we just can’t do that to ourselves,” coach Jen Greeny said following Sunday’s loss to Colorado. “We need more people to play more consistently.”
Going the distance
Fans rarely get shortchanged attending Whitworth matches. The Pirates have gone five sets in five of six Northwest Conference matches and eight of 18 overall. Whitworth dropped five-set heartbreakers last weekend to first-place Pacific Lutheran and second-place Puget Sound.
“We’re competing well; we are doing the right things out there,” coach Kati Bodecker said. “I don’t think there’s a particular volleyball skill that’s a huge weakness. Our biggest weakness is learning how to finish.”
The NWC doesn’t have a tournament so conference placing is big in determining post-season opportunities. The Pirates (9-9, 3-3) still have time to make up ground and they’re looking forward to rematches with PLU and UPS next month.
Jalana White (Post Falls) leads the conference with 262 kills, followed by teammate Kristine Kardell at 196. Whitworth’s Nicole Leonard is fourth (191). Whitney Santos leads the NWC in digs (379) and Maddye Dinsmore leads in assists per set (10.15).
Idaho (10-7, 3-2) missed a chance to move to the top of the WAC standings with a 3-0 loss at conference-leading New Mexico State, ending UI’s three-match winning streak. … Eastern Washington (6-11, 3-3), which was on the road at Southern Utah and Northern Arizona last week, picks up more air miles with visits to North Dakota and Northern Colorado this week. North Dakota leads the Big Sky at 5-0. … USC (14-1, 4-0) is the only unbeaten left in Pac-12 play, thanks in part to Alexis Olgard. The Mead High grad had a career-high 15 kills in a five-set win over Cal. Olgard had 24 kills and hit .590 in two wins to earn Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week and help USC move back to the top spot in the AVCA poll. … Spokane (19-9, 4-1 NWAACC East) entertains Yakima Valley on Friday. … North Idaho College (10-6, 3-1) visits Lewis-Clark State College tonight before returning to conference play against rival Southern Idaho in Twin Falls on Saturday.