After starting the season on the road in Florida and West Virginia over the course of three weekends, the Shippensburg University volleyball team finally returned home to play in front of a home crowd.
The wait was well worth it for fans inside Heiges Field House as the Raiders won both of their matches — including a thrilling contest with Gannon University this past weekend — to open Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) play.
On Friday, the Raiders fell behind 0-2 against Gannon before rallying back to defeat the defending conference champions 3-2 in five sets.
The highly competitive match was kept close the entire night as all five sets were decided by three points or fewer, but SU was unable to capture the first two sets, dropping them by scores of 23-25 and 22-25.
The Raiders jumped out to a quick 11-3 advantage in the third set after an attack error by Gannon was blocked by junior Courtney Malott and sophomore Samantha Webber.
The Golden Knights kept on battling, however, as they chipped away at SU’s third set lead and took the next seven points to make the set score 11-10. Gannon would eventually tie the score at 14 all. The tie score was just one of the 33 that spanned the stretch of the five-set match which also saw 15 lead changes.
After a set score of 23-22 in favor of SU, the Raiders would escape defeat in the third set by shutting down Gannon’s comeback and capturing the set, 25-22, on a kill by junior Morgan DeFloria.
The back-and-forth action continued in the fourth set which went to a 20-20 tie, before Webber closed the door on Gannon with a kill to win the set, 25-23.
In the decisive fifth set, which is played to 15 points and a two-point lead, tight scoring throughout was again the tone as the set was tied 10-10 and 15-15.
The Raiders had match point with a 16-15 lead but committed an attack error to make the score 16-16, giving the Golden Knights one last chance.
After the attack error, SU closed out the match with the with a kill to take a 17-16 advantage and a strong service ace to win the match, 18-16.
The match was competitive at the net the entire night as both teams combined for 27 blocks, with SU contributing 16 of those blocks, which was the most in a single match for the Raiders since a 2014 matchup with the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown.
Leading the Raiders in kills was Webber with 17, as DeFloria and Kendall Johnson had 15 and seven, respectfully. Freshman standout, Emily Hangen had a huge contribution in her first home match as she had 46 assists, 16 digs, three kills and three blocks from her setter position.
In Saturday’s contest against Mercyhurst University, SU swept the Lakers in three straight sets by scores of 25-20, 25-21, and 25-19.
With with victory, the Raiders improved to 9-5 overall and 2-0 in PSAC play on the season.
The Raiders had the second-most effective match of the season on the attack by posting a .357 hitting efficiency while only committing nine attack errors.
The first set was tied early at 5-5 before SU pulled away from Mercyhurst and shut down any comebacks by the Lakers as Webber had a kill to win the set 25-20.
The second set followed in similar fashion as the score was tied 6-6 when SU distanced itself from the Lakers 20-13 on a kill from Johnson. Mercyhurst again attempted a comeback, winning four straight points to make the score 20-17 before ultimately falling 25-21 on a service error.
In the final set of the match, SU had its most dominant overall performance by easily taking care of Mercyhurst which was capped off by a kill from DeFloria.
Hangen continued to shine as she finished the match with assists on 44 of the Raiders’ 49 kills. DeFloria led SU with 15 kills and one attack error. Other SU leaders were Johnson and Webber with 13 and 12 kills, respectively.
Leading the defensive side for the Raiders was Sophomore Megan Forstburg with 16 digs and two of SU’s three aces.
The Raiders will continue PSAC play as they will now travel out west for two games, starting with a Friday night contest at Edinboro University at 7 p.m. before a quick turnaround for a matinee matchup at Slippery Rock University at 1 p.m. on Saturday.