Antelopes block their way to NCAA II Women's Volleyball West Region Semifinals

GCU Volleyball Courtesy GCU Sports Information

LAIE, Hawai'i - Grand Canyon, ranked No. 20 in the nation and seeded second in the region, rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat seventh-seeded San Francisco State 3-2 in an NCAA II West Region Women's Volleyball Quarterfinal match on Thursay, Nov. 29, in Laie, Hawai'i.

GCU (24-5) won the two-hour match by set scores of 25-20, 16-25, 18-25, 25-23, 15-6.

It was GCU's first NCAA II Tournament win since 1993. The Antelopes will take on third-seed Cal State San Bernardino - a 3-2 winner over sixth-seed Central Washington - on Friday, Nov. 30, at 5 p.m. HAST.

The Antelopes beat the Coyotes, the defending National Runners-Up, 3-1 in Phoenix on Sept. 1.

"Earning a chance to play in the post-season and getting past the first round was one of our goals this season," GCU Head Coach Kris Naber explained. "We weren't looking ahead to the semifinals or championship. We can cross that (first-round win) off the list."

It was GCU's 24th victory of the season, the most since winning 25 in 1999.

Thursday's win over the Gators can be credited to a season-high 21 blocks and a school-record 13 block assists by junior Kristen Johannsen, who added a co-team high nine kills and seven digs. Senior Sydney McDowell had 10 block assists to go along with nine kills.

The previous block assist mark of 12 was set last season by current senior Shelby Taylor.

"Our block is what won the match tonight," Naber said. "Our players made good adjustments. We've relied on our block all year long and tonight it extended our season."

GCU jumped off to a great start. It had nine-point leads seven times in the first set before holding on to a 25-20 win.

The momentum San Francisco State gained late in the first set carried over to the next two as the Gators dominated play and looked well on their way to advancing to the next round.

GCU trailed 11-8 in the fourth set but literally blocked any chance of the Gators advancing.

Starting with a double-block from McDowell and Johannsen to cut the deficit to 11-10, GCU scored five straight points.

Two double-blocks during the run gave the Antelopes a 13-11 lead. McDowell and Johannsen combined on another as did Caelen Hiller and Johannsen. Hiller's kills wrapped up the set giving GCU its first set-point at 24-22 and ending the contest 25-23.

"We couldn't have done it without (McDowell) on offense and on defense," Naber said of the senior transfer who had her best match as an Antelope. "She was going to go out swinging."

It was all GCU in the fifth. Johannsen recorded her school-record block with Hiller to give GCU a 2-1 lead which it would never surrender. Seven of its 15 fifth-set points came on blocks.

"Give (Johannsen) credit," Naber said. "All the little adjustments she has made has paid off. It will give her a ton of confidence for Friday."

Senior setter Kristen Preach had a double-double with 32 assists and 16 digs. She also posted four block assists. GCU almost had as many block assists (42) as it did kills (45).

The Gators had 22 more kills (67) than the 'Lopes, but not nearly as many blocks (21-3).

Sophomore libero Mackenzie Phelps had 34 digs, one of four to reach double figures in the category. Sara Bowden and Janae Gileshad 10 each.

The Antelopes took advantage of seven Gator service errors.

Lanie Muys, playing in three sets, had six block assists, including four in the fifth set.