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College Volleyball

Westmont Wins Epic 5-Set Match to Capture GSAC Tournament Title

 It took an epic comeback for NAIA No. 6 Westmont (32-3) to prevail against Vanguard (18-11), but prevail they did to win the Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament Championship in five sets (25-14, 33-35, 24-26, 28-16, 15-8).

"This is amazing," said Taylor Beckman. "We are the GSAC Champions in the first year of the tournament."

With the win, the Warriors earn a berth in the NAIA National Championship that begins next week with opening round play. Westmont is expected to receive a bye in the opening round and advance directly to pool play beginning Nov. 27 in Sioux City, Iowa.

"It is very difficult to beat a team three times," Beckman added. "I am so proud of the win earlier today and I'm so proud of this one because they knew us really well, but we still found a way."

Earlier in the day, Westmont defeated Menlo in four sets (25-21, 20-25, 25-17, 25-19) in the semifinals.

Against Vanguard, the Warriors cruised through the first set. The next three sets were a different story, however, with each one going past the requisite 25 points. Though Westmont had eight set-point serves, Vanguard ultimately claimed the second set 35-33 to tie the match at one set apiece.

The close battle continued in the third set. With the score 23-all, Vanguard's Jene Lee delivered a kill to give the Lions set point. Samantha Neely responded in kind to tie the score at 24 before a Westmont attack error resulted in another set point for Vanguard. This time, Taylor Jackson put the ball away for the Lions, making the score 26-24 and giving Vanguard a two-set-to-one lead.

Vanguard carried that momentum into the fourth set and eventually built a 16-9 lead, prompting head coach Patti Cook to call timeout.

"We started to lose heart," acknowledged Cook. "We got disheartened by the two close losses. I could see some doubt across their faces. The timeout I took was just to get them to breathe – to breathe new life in them, to refresh and rest their focus and believe that they could do this."

"We were stressed out, we were definitely closing out," agreed Beckman. "Then Lindsay (Paulo) came in and had clutch serves, Libby (Dahlberg) had some clutch blocks and Sam had kills and we were right back in it.

After four successive side outs made the score 18-11, the momentum began to shift. Neely and Cassidy Rea delivered back-to-back kills to make the score 18-13. Jackson connected again for Vanguard, but Westmont gained two more points on Vanguard errors to pull the Warriors within four at 19-15.

Back-to-back kills by the Lions' Kamelah Noel stretched Vanguard's advantage back to six before Rea struck again to make the score 21-16.

The side out sent Lindsay Paulo to the service line.

"We had a few timeouts where we all just looked at each other and said, 'We're going to do this,'" Paulo said. "I told the team, 'One point at a time, we're going to do this, take a deep breath, we're good.' Then it was my turn to serve, so I thought, 'Well; now it's my turn to do what I just told the team to do.'"

Paulo promptly dished out an ace on her first serve. Her second serve knocked Vanguard out of system and resulted in a block by Dahlberg and Brooklynn Cheney. Her third serve resulted in a kill by Dahlberg and her fourth was another ace. As a result, Westmont had climbed to within one point at 21-20.

"I told Lindsay after the game that if volleyball had the tradition of giving a game ball to someone, she would have gotten the game ball," said Cook. "She single-handedly got us back into that match. We started to believe again."

"I love the pressure, so, I'm happy to be back on the (service) line," explained Paulo. "It's something we work a lot on in practice, so, it's great to see it come through in the games and bring us to the first championship."

Jackson finally put an end to Paulo's serving with yet another kill before Dahlberg struck again to make the score 22-21. Then a Lion's attack error tied the score at 22-all.

As quickly as Westmont gained equal footing, however, Vanguard suddenly had match point at 24-22 – the result of a kill by Juanae Johnson and a block by Hailey Gordon. The Lions, however, let the Warriors back in the match with back-to-back errors, making the score 24-all. Dahlberg and Neely then teamed up on a block to give Westmont its first lead of the set at 25-24.

Vanguard's Shay Larson-Piper tied the game at 25 with a kill, but Neely put the ball on the floor to restore Westmont's lead (26-25). A Warrior attack error tied the game at 26 before a Vanguard error gave Westmont its third set point. Then Vanguard sent the ball out of bounds, giving Westmont a 28-26 win and tying the score at two sets each.

During the break before the fifth set, Westmont's fans shouted their encouragement at a deafening level and the team responded with cheers and excitement of their own.

"The crowd was amazing," said Paulo. "It was mostly parents in the stands. It's awesome to see that everyone has our backs and wants us to succeed – whether we are killing it easily or struggling to come back."

The momentum was fully in Westmont's court. By the fifth-set cross over, Westmont had an 8-2 lead.

The Lions tried to make a comeback, but they would get no closer the four points. A kill by Johnson made the score 13-8 before Dahlberg recorded her first attack of the final frame and made the score 14-8. Neely had the honor of scoring the final point, tooling a block to make Westmont the GSAC Tournament champions.

Neely led the Warriors in kills with 21 while posting a .375 attack percentage. Dahlberg added 18 kills while hitting .516. Rea notched 16 kills and recorded a .481 attack percentage and Beckman contributed 15 kills. 

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