Grand Canyon falls to Cal State San Bernardino at NCAA II Volleyball West Region Semifinals

Caeleen Hiller Courtesy GCU Sports Information

LAIE, Hawai'i - One of Grand Canyon volleyball's most successful seasons in its 31-year history came to a close on Friday night, Nov. 30, in Laie, Hawai'i.

In the NCAA Division II West Region Semifinal - equaling the farthest the team has advanced in NCAA play - the Antelopes were defeated by four-time region champion and defending national runner-up CSU San Bernardino 3-2 at Cannon Activities Center on the campus of BYU-Hawaii.

The Antelopes lost by set scores of 26-24, 25-21, 21-25, 25-27, 15-12.

GCU finished the year 24-6. Its .800 winning percentage is the second best in school history, only topped by the 1993 team that reached the region semis and finished 25-5 (.833).

"As disappointing as the loss is, if you're going to lose, that's how you want to go out," GCU Head Coach Kris Naber said.

The Antelopes rallied after dropping the first two sets. They trailed 8-4 in the fifth before forcing a tie at 8-8 and later at 12-12, before the Coyotes scored the final three points.

Sophomore libero Mackenzie Phelps tied a school mark for digs in a match with 45, matching Jeri Dallman who had 45 on Sept. 19, 1990, in a match against Alaska-Anchorage. The Pacific West Conference Libero of the Year and All-West Region selection set a new school mark for digs in a season with 661.

It was GCU's second straight trip to the NCAA II Women's Volleyball Championship Tournament and only the fourth in the program's history. Three have come under Naber.

The quarterfinal win over San Francisco State on Nov. 29 was GCU's first NCAA tournament win since 1993.

"From last year to this year, we made huge strides," Naber, whose program has won 20 or more matches in three of the last four seasons, said. "We showed a lot of composure under pressure situations (down 2-0 tonight and 2-1 Thursday). We had a lot of fight to come back. I'm very proud of them."

In the third set, GCU stayed alive by fighting through 14 ties, the last coming at 20-20. Phelps gave GCU the lead with a service ace. Kristen Johannsen followed with one of her three solo blocks, and Kaitlynn Ausmus, who was the co-match leader with 15 kills, finished off her swing for a 23-20 lead. The set finished with two kills from Johannsen.

The Antelopes led most of the fourth set inlcuding a seven-point lead at 16-9, but the Coyotes made them earn the 2-2 tie. GCU led 24-21 after a Sydney McDowell kill, but a service error, CSUSB service ace and a Coyote kill knotted the match, 24-24.

Johannsen gave GCU a brief lead at 25-24 with a block. Tied at 25, GCU scored off an attack error and Caelen Hiller (photo) ace to force the fifth set.

Down 8-4 in the fifth, Kristen Preach started a four-point run with a kill. The senior setter just missed a triple-double in her final collegiate match, garnering nine kills, 49 assists and 15 digs.

CSUSB had two attack errors and GCU scored on double-block from Preach and senior Shelby Taylor, who finished with a match-high seven blocks, including two solos.

GCU trailed by two, 12-10, when a pair of kills by McDowell, who finished with a season-high 14, knotted it at 12.

After 14 ties, San Bernardino won the second set 25-21. The last tie was 18-18 on a Taylor kill, but the Coyotes followed with a four-point run. There were eight first-set ties.

GCU thwarted three set points, getting kills from Hiller and Preach, along with a Coyote attack error to tie it at 24-24.

Senior outside hitter Janae Giles finished with 12 kills and 16 digs, while senior Sara Bowden had 12 digs and Hiller posted 14 digs and five kills. Johannsen had six kills and five total blocks.

GCU finished the season ranked No. 20 in the nation by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. The Antelopes were in the rankings every week, excluding the AVCA preseason poll.

"From Aug. 13 until now, this team never stopped getting better and wanting to get better," Naber said. "This group will have a special place in a lot of people's hearts. They've set the expectations high on and off the court for GCU volleyball."