Dec. 16, 2016
The Gonzaga volleyball program continued to climb the West Coast Conference ranks in 2016, finishing with one of the program’s best seasons in the last 26 years. Here is a look at some of the numerous highlights from the 2016 season:
MORE Ws THAN AN ALPHABET SOUP:
Gonzaga went 17-11 overall this season for the program’s best record since 1990. The Bulldogs’ 17 wins equaled the most since that season, and their 11 losses were the fewest in 26 years as well. Additionally, Gonzaga’s RPI also climbed to 80, marking the program’s sixth consecutive year of climbing the NCAA ranks.
CLIMBING THE WCC LADDER:
To go along with their high overall win percentage, the Zags went 10-8 (.556) in West Coast Conference play, tying for third in the league standings. That’s the squad’s best finish and conference record since taking second at 10-4 in 1994.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE:
Gonzaga saw six seniors play their final season in 2016: Emmy Allen, Sarah Bradley, Morgan Douglass, McKayla Ferris, Paige Folger, and Imani Wimbush. All six played a large role for the Zags with Allen, Ferris and Wimbush serving as mainstays in the starting lineup, Bradley and Folger rotating in and out of the lineup all year, and Douglass serving as a defensive substitute before taking over libero duties in October. Together, the six combined for 1,156 kills, 750 digs, 192 total blocks, and 50 service aces. Off the court, Allen and Folger shared co-captain duties, and all six seniors worked tirelessly to show the team’s 10 underclassmen what it’s like to be a Division I student-athlete. Bradley, Douglass, Ferris, Folger, and Wimbush leave Gonzaga with 61 wins in their four years on the court, the most by a single class since the 1993 seniors.
AND THE EMMY GOES TO…:
Allen wrapped up a strong two-year career at Gonzaga this season. She earned First Team All-WCC honors, giving the Zags their fourth consecutive First-Team honoree. The outside hitter finished fifth in the conference with 377 kills, 3.59 per set. Both totals are among the school’s 10 best during the rally scoring era, and Allen became just the second Zag since rally scoring began in 2001 to land 30 kills in one match. She reached the mark Nov. 5 at home against Pepperdine. After transferring in as a junior, Allen leaves Gonzaga with 638 kills, 411 digs, and 110 total blocks.
The Zags saw numerous milestones reached this season. Douglass became the 13th Bulldog to reach 1,000 digs in a career on Senior Day, Nov. 19, and Ferris landed her 1,000th career kill during the season finale at Portland. Folger, meanwhile, moved into fourth on the school’s block assists list and sixth on the total blocks list with 355 and 389, respectively. Sophomore setter Faith Smith also moved into the career top 10 list for assists, ending the year with 1,258.
The Bulldogs saw historic success against the WCC’s two Southern California travel partners: Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount. On Oct. 6, Gonzaga had its first-ever road win in Malibu, downing Pepperdine in four sets. Two days later, the Zags edged Loyola Marymount in five in Los Angeles for their first-ever road sweep of the two conference powerhouses. In Spokane, Gonzaga beat the Waves for a second time to clinch the program’s first season sweep of Pepperdine. Four of the Zags’ seven all-time victories over the Waves have come within the last three years.
THE BEST OFFENSE IS A GOOD DEFENSE:
This season, the Zags got gritty on defense, averaging 14.96 digs per set and finishing fourth in the WCC in digs/set. Both figures are the team’s best since 2010. In all, five players set career highs in digs per set, and the Zags dug up 90 attacks in two separate matches this season: 90 versus Butler on August 26 and 93 at Portland on Nov. 21. Those 93 digs were also a team high within the last six seasons, and Tiyana Hallums’ 24 digs against Butler was a program-best over the last two. When only considering conference matches, Gonzaga was third in the conference with 15.30 digs per frame, and Douglass ended the WCC slate ninth 3.57 digs every set.
At the net, Gonzaga once again was the No. 2 blocking team in the conference, blocking 2.52 attacks per set. The Bulldogs have finished second in the conference in blocks per set during three of the last four seasons. Folger finished sixth in the WCC with 1.06 blocks per game, and freshman Katelyn Oppio was 12th at 0.94. Bradley also posted a career best with 55 blocks, 0.89 per set, while Wimbush averaged 0.79 per frame.
SMART AND SKILLED:
Gonzaga once again placed four players on the WCC’s All-Academic teams. Douglass and Ferris earned First Team All-Academic honors while Allen and Folger received Honorable Mention accolades. It was Douglass, Ferris, and Folger’s third career academic honor while Allen became eligible this year after transferring in as a junior.
THE NEXT GENERATION:
While the Bulldogs’ seniors played a large role in the year’s success, plenty of freshmen saw large roles throughout the season as well. Oppio started all 28 matches at middle blocker while Jenna Kuehn and Tessie Powers split time at setter. Payton Mack, also a middle blocker, played in 40 sets before suffering an injury during conference play. Oppio led the Zags’ hitters with a .247 average this season, and her .824 hit percentage at Nevada (14-0-17) was the best by any Bulldog (minimum 10 kills) in 12 years. Kuehn finished with 356 assists, second-most on the team, while Powers came on strong in WCC play, averaging 3.62 assists and 2.07 digs against conference foes. Mack, meanwhile, blocked 23 attacks on the year, five each versus Nevada and Idaho State.
NEW LOOK UP TOP:
Former Zag Diane Nelson took control of the program last May and saw a tremendous start to her head coaching career. She became the Zags’ first Division I coach to open her career with four consecutive wins and first to post a winning record during her first year. Additionally, her .607 winning percentage as a head coach is the best among GU’s D1 leaders. Nelson (née Pascua) also became the first program alum to lead the program; she played for the Bulldogs from 1995-98. She’s been on the staff since 2011.
The Zags went 7-3 in non-conference action this season, their third consecutive winning mark in non-conference play. They started out the year 4-0, the best start to a season since 1990. Three of those wins came as the Bulldogs claimed the Utah Volleyball Classic title, beating Butler, Utah, and Idaho State in Salt Lake City to begin the year. Their victory over the Utes was GU’s first win over a Pac-12 team since 2011.
First Team All-WCC.
WCC All-Academic Honorable Mention.
Led team, Fifth in WCC with 377 kills, 3.59 kills per set, 4.05 points per set.
Became second Bulldog in rally scoring era to tally 30 or more kills in a match (30; Nov. 5 versus Pepperdine).
Utah Volleyball Classic All-Tournament Team.
Became 13th member of GU’s 1000-dig club…ended career with 1,025 digs.
Led team with 3.02 digs per set…finished No. 9 in conference with 3.53 during WCC action.
Became 14th member of GU’s 1,000-kill club…ended career with 1,007 kills.
Second on the team, ninth in WCC with 3.28 kills per set.
Utah Volleyball Classic MVP…three double-doubles and career-high 26 kills versus Butler in the tournament.
Ended career No. 4 in school history with 355 block assists…also finished sixth with 389 total blocks.
Led team, seventh in WCC with 108 blocks, 1.07 per set.
WCC All-Academic Honorable Mention for third consecutive year.
Ameritas Players Challenge All-Tournament Team.
.824 hit percentage (14 kills, 17 attacks) Sept. 9 at Nevada…best attack percentage since at least 2004 (minimum 10 kills).
Moved into 10th all-time with 1,258 assists.
Led team with 585 assists and 16 double-doubles.
Utah Volleyball Classic All-Tournament Team.
The Zags return 10 players from the 2016 roster next season, including the only two players to start every match this year: Oppio and Smith. Smith, Kuehn, and Powers will give Gonzaga plenty of experience in running the offense, while Hallums, Marit Thorkildsen, and Maddy Jemes all figure to contribute along the back row. Oppio, Mack, and the return of Kaylie Loewen from a redshirt year leave the Bulldogs with match-tested middle blockers. On the outside, Hallums and Hailey Dunn figure to bolster a youthful trio of NLI signees: Chapin Gray, Abby Knapp and Sarah Penner.