Wednesday night was the first home game for SFU volleyball this season, and coming into the contest it was going to be a tough one. The Western Washington Vikings were the consensus pick to finish first in the GNAC, and were in the final four of last year’s NCAA Division II tournament. In perhaps the biggest test of the season thus far, the Clan prevailed with a 3–2 win over its rival.
“I think we did an amazing job playing as a team,” said outside hitter Emma Jennings after the game. “We’ve been working all spring and all preseason training, to work as a unit and if someone’s down, we all pick up the player. It’s been really working well for us.”
In the first set, SFU roared out to a 8–4 lead, bolstered by the huge red night crowd, where everyone was encouraged to wear red and the first 100 people got a free T-shirt. An official crowd of 823 turned out to see the game, and a large section of that was SFU student athletes, who took up half the gym. SFU thoroughly outplayed the Vikings in the set, winning 25–13 in convincing fashion. The next two sets SFU and Western Washington would trade back and forth by exact 25–21 scores.
It was in the fourth set that it looked like SFU was in trouble. The final score was 25–18, but it was an instance where the score made it look a lot closer than it was. SFU was at one point down 21–13, and it seemed like nothing was going right for them. They weren’t able to get any blocks, serves were hitting the net, and at one point, an SFU player whiffed on a kill attempt.
“I said to them, if it was easy, it won’t be amazing,” said head coach Gina Schmidt on what she told the team prior to the fifth set. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy, and that’s what’s going to make it fun when we pull out the fifth.”
The fifth set was a tense affair that had the crowd on the edge of their seats. After Western Washington tied it up at two, SFU never looked back, taking the lead for the rest of the game and winning it 15–8. Emma Jennings got the winning kill that sent the West Gym crowd into a frenzy.
“It was amazing, and I’m so glad we played them for our home opener, just because they were our main rivals last year,” said Jennings on the crowd and the opponent. “We always wanted to beat them, and this year we just put all of our heart on the court and just gave it our all. It feels great to beat them.”
The win was not only huge in the context of the 2016 season, but can be seen as a signature win for Schmidt and the volleyball program. Schmidt inherited a team in 2013 that was coming off a 1–18 record in conference play. Since then, it’s been a remarkable turnaround.
“It’s a great win for our team and our program,” commented Schmidt. “Before this season I was hoping for us to have a lot of firsts, and this is just one of those firsts. Hopefully there’s more to come.”
Now with an 8–1 record, the Clan will be looking to build off its huge win in the next home game, which is against University of Alaska Fairbanks this September 23 at 7 p.m.