Westmont Volleyball (18-4, 12-2 GSAC) celebrated senior night with their sixth win in a row on Saturday night, when they swept the Hope International Royals (5-18, 4-11) in Santa Barbara. In the first set, Westmont erased a 10-point deficit to win a thriller, before taking control of the second and third set to end the night.
Following senior night festivities, the Warriors were late to the real party, committing four errors out of the gate that caused head coach Ruth McGolpin to use a timeout trailing 7-2. After the stoppage, the Royals continued to catch the Warriors on their heels scoring on another pair of Warrior attacking errors en route to a 13-5 lead. At that point, McGolpin was forced to use her final timeout.
“During one of the timeouts I said, ‘this doesn’t surprise me, but this also doesn’t concern me’,” reflected McGolpin. “We were down 10 at one point, but I had no doubt in our ability to keep clawing.”
After trailing 17-7, Westmont arrived to the scene with a 10-4 run, trimming the deficit to 21-17, while bringing the home crowd alive. At that point, the Royals called a timeout in an attempt to slow the Warriors’ momentum.
The emotional wave was halted for a moment, as the Royals eventually led 24-20. Then, a three-point run for the Warriors brought the crowd to their feet and caused the Royals to use their final timeout up 24-23. Murchison Gym erupted when a solo block from Taylor Distelberg tied the game at 24, and grew only louder when a kill from Sara Krueger gave them a 25-24 lead.
The Royals did not go away immediately, tying the game at 25. In the end, however, a kill from Alexa Shiner, and an attacking error from the Royals led to a simultaneous roar and sigh of relief from the home crowd, as Westmont came all the way back to win it 27-25.
“The grit was amazing out there,” said a proud McGolpin. “The blocking started to pick up, and Sara Krueger got on fire towards the end of that set as well. The amount of grit they showed in that first set changed the entire night’s momentum.”
The two sides played each other closely in the beginning of the second set, but a kill from Phoebe Minch led to an HIU timeout when the Warriors stretched their lead to 16-12. A kill from Distelberg capped off the next stretch of points for Westmont, which forced Hope International to use their final timeout trailing 20-14.
Minutes later, Distelberg’s seventh kill of the match gave Westmont a 25-20 win, and 2-0 set advantage.
In the third set, Hope International once again hung with the Warriors, taking a 16-15 lead partway through the set. However, three errors in five possessions from the Royals allowed the Warriors to flip the script and take a 19-17 lead going into an HIU timeout.
Then, out of Hope’s timeout, an attacking error from Westmont followed by a kill from the Royals tied it at 19 again, leading McGolpin to call a timeout of her own.
Out of the timeout, Malone began to put the finishing touches on her senior night, first with a block, and second with a kill, giving the Warriors a momentum-building 21-19 lead. Moments later, a Royals’ attacking error brought an end to a 25-22 win, and clean sweep for the Warriors.
Krueger led the team offensively with 10 kills, while Distelberg added eight of her own. Defensively, Kaili Hashimoto led the team with 18 digs, while Alexis Dennick collected a team-high seven blocks. Malone also collected six blocks, as the Warriors out-blocked the Royals 9-5.
Kistner led the team with 17 assists, while Shiner contributed with 15 of her own.
“Sara Kruger and Alexis Dennick were the standouts,” expressed McGolpin. “Alexa Gatiss was fantastic in the back row as well. It was a collective effort tonight.”
Along with the win, Westmont spent the evening honoring Malone, Kistner, and Gatiss as the club’s three seniors. The trio is the first four-year group to compete exclusively under McGolpin.
Together the group has won two GSAC regular season Championships, and are on the cusp of a third. Historically, the group will be remembered for being part of the 2019 team, the first team in program history to reach the NAIA National Championship match.
“Senior night is always rough,” admitted McGolpin. “It’s rough emotionally and it can be rough physically as well. This group of seniors has persevered with this program and with me for four years at the helm. I could not be more stoked that this is my first class.”
With now a three-game lead over Vanguard for first-place, Westmont’s magic number to clinch the GSAC Championship is down to two. Coincidentally, Westmont’s next game is Friday, October 28, when they’ll host the Lions at 7:00 p.m.
With a win, the Warriors would become GSAC Champions.
“Obviously, we know to take things one game at a time,” assured McGolpin. “It’s going to be a tough battle, but I’m glad it’s at home. Bring out the crowd.”
Links for tickets for Friday’s match as well as links to live coverage are available on the Westmont Athletics website.