Improved Volleyball Team Opens At Northwest Challenge
SPOKANE, Wash. – Gonzaga University’s women’s volleyball team opens its season this weekend at the Northwest Challenge hosted by Boise State University.
The Bulldogs will face host Boise State Friday at 4 p.m. PST, then play two matches Saturday against the University of Washington at 11 a.m. PST and Portland State University at 6 p.m. PST.
Head coach Dave Gantt enters his sixth season on the Bulldog bench, and he likes where this team is heading into the season. After going 11-16 overall and 7-11 last season in West Coast Conference play, Gantt believes the pieces are in place to build on that success. The 11 wins mark a team-best under coach Gantt whose previous best was 10 in 2009. The seven WCC victories were a team-best since 1994.
“I think we kind of snuck up on some people last year in conference play. I don’t know that we’ll sneak up on anybody this year,” Gantt said. “My sense is we have the right mindset going into it to win two, three, four or maybe five additional matches compared to last year. I’m not one to say we are going for the ring, yet. I’m really involved in the process of coaching these kids. We’re just so deeply involved in that piece of it that certainly wins and losses are going to be a result of what we do in the private confines of our gym.”
Savannah Blinn has gone from being a WCC All-Freshman selection in 2012 to an All-WCC first team and American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-Pacific North Region honorable mention pick last season.
“She has gone from a redshirt year to WCC All-Freshman Team, to a first-team All-WCC award winner to an AVCA regional award winner. This year now can we get her out there instead of three rotations can she handle six rotations and still be as effective for us.” Gantt wonders. “I think she can because we now have some supporting cast that is educated well enough as to what is necessary within our conference to be successful.”
Blinn was named to the All-WCC preseason team earlier this month.
Gantt looks to “the likes of McKayla Ferris, Jordan Gasser, Lauren Joseph, two or three defensive players like Kathleen Wright, Macee Utecht and Morgan Douglass. I think our engines are running pretty well in the first contact piece. Add a couple of freshmen and I like what we’re doing all the way around.”
Freshman setter Nikki Leonard and freshman outside hitter Kaylie Loewen are two youngsters Gantt expects to see a lot of court time.
“Nikki is really athletic and some intangibles there with her athleticism. It’s exciting to watch her move around the court. Kaylie is under the radar in Canada but is in that situation where not too many know about her down here,” Gantt said.
Entering his sixth season, Gantt believes this team is finally 100 percent invested.
“I think last year we were 90 percent of the way toward it being our team. Now it is our team, period,” Gantt noted. “We’ve been able to infuse our philosophy, our passion for it, our attention to details that impact winning matches. How that ends up getting evaluated at the end of the season is hard to say. We’re going to be better, so that’s not hard to say. How much better is everyone else going to be is the intangible. There are always going to be some surprises. I think we have some and I think some other people will have some as well.”
The Bulldogs will get a good variety of competition this weekend in Boise, facing a Mountain West team in the host Broncos, a Big Sky Conference team in PSU and a Pacific-12 Conference team in Washington.
“I like our chances in the preseason with the schedule we have. I like that we’re healthy, that our minds are where they should be going into this. I like that that we have someone everybody has to pay attention to on the court which means those who have gotten better beside Savannah will have more impact this year which was part of the plan we had from last spring to now,” Gantt explained. “I like everything that’s going on; it’s just validated with a win and that’s what we need to start thinking about in terms of this process coming to fruition in the public eye.”