LOS ANGELES – Down two sets to none against San Diego State in the first round of the Division I women’s volleyball tournament, Saint Mary’s never gave quitting a brief consideration.
A Kristina Graven kill provided the final point as Saint Mary’s beat San Diego State 3-2 (17-25, 23-25, 25-23, 25-22, 15-12) to advance to Friday’s second round.
“The significance for me is just that this team was able to dig down deep and pull it out,” Saint Mary’s coach Rob Browning said. “It wasn’t pretty, they had to scrap and fight and claw and they were able to do that.”
Trailing 11-10, an attempt by San Diego State went wide, tying the match. The Gaels finished things from there, scoring the last four points.
The win sends Saint Mary’s to the second round, where the Gaels will play host USC.
Graven finished with a season-high 23 kills to lead Saint Mary’s. She hit at a .407 clip and added a team-high 17 digs as well. Jordan Shaw added 11 kills, Dalas Dodd had 28 assists and Samantha Tinsley chipped in with nine kills.
San Diego State (23-8) used a 5-0 run to start the match to establish early control. The Aztecs maintained the lead throughout the set, never letting the Gaels get closer than three points and going ahead by as many as 10.
A block by Gabby Jolly and Lauren Corp provided Saint Mary’s final point of the set, but San Diego State closed it out shortly thereafter, winning 25-17.
The Gaels proved much sharper in the second set, holding the lead for most of the frame. Tinsley and Graven were the main aggressors, finding holes in the San Diego State defense for multiple points.
San Diego State managed to pull even. After tying it at 18, the Aztecs pulled into a slim lead. A kill by Andrea Hannasch brought the set to a close, with San Diego State winning 25-23.
San Diego State pulled ahead midway through the third set. Freshman Katie Reininger provided a lift off the bench, and Shaw kept on firing from outside to put Saint Mary’s back on top. The set ended 25-23 in favor of the Gaels, with the final point coming on a kill by Shaw.
“I think our servers at that point did a great job,” Graven said. “We started hitting our serves and playing our game and I think that helped us a lot because it got them out of their system and we could play our defense better and that got us a lot more opportunities.”
The teams battled back and forth in the fourth, with the defense of Jolly and Graven’s offense keeping the Gaels in it. San Diego State managed to pull ahead at 16-15, but Saint Mary’s fought back to tie it at 21 on a kill from Graven.
It was all Gaels for the rest of the set. Two huge aces from Shaw proved clutch, and Jolly threw down a kill put the exclamation point on a 25-22 win for Saint Mary’s.