Bulldogs Continue to Progress in 2015
Jan. 19, 2016
SPOKANE, Wash.--The 2015 season was another one of progress for the Gonzaga University volleyball team. The Zags continued to improve on the court, in the standings, and in the awards cabinet. Here's a look back to the many highlights from Gonzaga volleyball's 2015 season.
Getting Used to that Winning Feeling: The Zags wrapped up the 2015 season with a 16-15 record, their second consecutive winning season. It's the program's first set of back-to-back winning years since 1989 and 1990. Additionally, the Zags' ended the year ranked No. 90 in the RPI, marking their fifth consecutive year of moving up in the NCAA ranks.
#Blinning Once More: Redshirt senior Savannah Blinn wrapped up a brilliant five-year career and finished as one of the best volleyball players in Gonzaga history. She finished her illustrious career with 1,728 kills, the second-most in program history and the most since the adoption of rally scoring. Additionally, it's eighth-most among current Division I athletes. After adding 475 more kills and a career-high 85 blocks as a senior, she became the first Bulldog in history to earn All-America Honorable Mention honors in back-to-back years. She also became the first Zag to win three Regional honors.
Finding the Floor: Gonzaga hit an efficient .251 as a team in 2015, the highest attack percentage in over a decade. That mark is the second-best in the West Coast Conference and 42nd-highest in the nation. The Bulldogs hit .400 or above in three matches this season, including an astounding .489 Sept. 26 against Saint Mary's. That is a school record according to available history, as is Jordan Gasser's .714 hit percentage that day against the Gaels. Furthermore, the Zags hit .300 or better in nine matches on the season, including all three matches of September's GCU Invite. Over those contests in Phoenix, the Zags hit .346 as a squad.
Hot Start to WCC Play: The Zags saw a terrific start to the West Coast Conference season, beating No. 23 Pacific and steamrolling Saint Mary's during the first WCC weekend. The four-set win over the Tigers came on the strength of 17 blocks, the second-highest total of the year and gave the Zags win over a ranked team for the second consecutive season. Two days later, the Zags used their ultra-efficient offense to beat the Gaels in three. Four Zags hit above .500 during that match; Gasser set the program record while Blinn, too, posted a career high of .625. Middle blockers Imani Wimbush and Paige Folger hit .583 and .571 to help propel the Zags as well. After posting 28 kills and hitting .545 during those two matches, Gasser picked up her first career WCC Player of the Week award. The 2-0 start to conference play was the Zags' first since 1991.
We're Heartin' Martin: The Zags enjoyed some home cooking this year, playing 15 of their 31 matches within the friendly confines of the Martin Centre. They won nine of those contests, coming away with their highest home win tally in 21 years. Those 15 home matches were also the most since 1988.
Building Blocks: The Zags saw quality play at the net throughout the season, posting 294.5 total blocks in 2015. That mark is the program's highest since 2007, and both that and the Zags' blocks-per-set of 2.47 are among the 50 best in the nation. At one point during the season, the Zags outblocked opponents in nine straight matches while not being outblocked themselves in 13, and they reached double-digit blocks in 15 matches, just under half of the 2015 slate. Kaylie Loewen led the team with 114 total blocks, by far a new career high, while Folger added 92. Also, both Loewen and Wimbush averaged a block per set this season.
End of an Era: The Zags said goodbye to four seniors this season: Blinn, Gasser, Lauren Joseph, and Deanna Nielson. All four played a large part in the Zags' climb up the WCC ranks over the last five years. Blinn's achievements are listed above, and Joseph will join her in the record books as No. 7 on the program's all-time assists list with 2,431. The 2015 team captain played in at least 27 matches and dished out over 400 assists in each of her four years at GU. Gasser was a top-notch addition to the Bulldog attack as well, posting 939 kills since 2012 with 2.58 kills every set. The Mission Viejo, Calif., native played in 103 matches with the Bulldogs. Nielson, however, lost her final two years to injury but was a solid all-around player for the Zags in her freshman and sophomore years. She ended her career with 157 kills, 116 blocks, and 141 digs. During the careers of these four seniors, the Zags have climbed up the ranks in the difficult West Coast Conference and enjoyed a period of success they haven't seen in 25 years.
Fancy Broomwork: Gonzaga swept 11 matches in 2015, the most since posting the same number in 1992. That mark is just one off the school's NCAA-era record of 12 sweeps set in 1989. One of this season's more notable sweeps was a win over Pepperdine Oct. 10, the Zags' first three-set win over the Waves in 23 years. Another memorable three-setter came during the Gonzaga Invitational when the Zags took down Inland Northwest foe Wyoming after edging the Cowgirls in a five-set thriller on the road during the 2014 season.
Getting Fresh: Three newcomers saw extensive playing time this season as Emmy Allen, Faith Smith, and Tiyana Hallums broke into the rotation early and never left. Allen and Smith started the first match of the year -- with Smith taking the first serve, no less -- and Hallums made her debut in that same match against the Huskies, earned her first start Sept. 4 against Wyoming, and took over as libero after Morgan Douglass got hurt during the Jayhawk Invitational. Smith set three rotations for the Zags, leading the squad with 673 assists and finishing third with 252 digs. Allen was a jack-of-all-trades outside hitter, posting 261 kills, 225 digs, and 57 blocks while leading the team with 26 service aces. Hallums, meanwhile, was second on the team with 245 digs, 2.33 a set.
2016 Outlook: The Zags will return a large part of the roster next season, but they will have to replace Blinn and Gasser, their top two attacking options over the last two seasons, as well as long-time setter Joseph. Allen and Ferris figure to handle a majority of that load, but squad's middles - Folger, Loewen, and Wimbush - saw increased workloads as the season went on and could play a larger role in the offense in 2016. Defensively, the Zags will be loaded with the return of Hallums and Douglass, both of whom wore the red jersey for much of the year in 2015. Smith and Nikki Leonard will each come back with a year's more experience to run the offense, and signee Jenna Kuehn will bolster the Zags' setting depth. Two more middle blockers - Payton Mack and Katelyn Oppio - will join the squad as freshmen, and opposite hitter Hailey Dunn will return from a redshirt season to bolster the attack.
11/20/2017 - Zags End Season with Senior Day Win
11/18/2017 - Penner Lands 22 Kills as Zags Fall in Five
11/16/2017 - Tough Night Offensively Hands VB Loss in Stockton
11/15/2017 - Zags to End Regular Season with Long Weekend
11/14/2017 - Two NLI Signees for Volleyball
11/11/2017 - VB Falls to No. 12 San Diego
11/09/2017 - VB Falls to Ninth-ranked BYU