Courtesy of Denver Athletics Communications
DENVER— The University of Denver women's volleyball season ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday evening at the hands of Cal Poly in straight-sets (25-20, 25-18, 25-18).
The seniors tried to prolong their careers, leading the way for the Crimson and Gold in all categories, but Cal Poly proved too much despite their efforts. Senior Cassie Baird led the team in kills with 11, while fellow seniors Cassidy Rooke and Piyusha Boteju led with eight digs and 17 assists, respectively. Senior Kayla Principato had four assisted blocks in the match to lead the team.
Ellie Anderson also reached double-digits in assists on the night with 14.
Denver (23-6) hit .284 in the match behind 37 total kills on 95 attempts. They recorded 35 assists, 33 digs and six total team blocks.
For the first time all season, the Pioneers were unable to record a service ace, and were unable to stop the Mustangs, who hit .406 with 50 kills, 48 assists, 40 digs and had eight service aces of their own.
"We had a tough match tonight," said head coach Tom Hogan. "Our first contact never really got going, and that made the rest of the match difficult. Sometimes in competitive athletics, you can have an off-night, and tonight was ours.
"It's unfortunate, but we leave the NCAA Tournament with our heads held high. We have a lot of pride in the amazing and historic season we had as a program, and we look forward to working hard again for this opportunity.
"Words cannot express how proud I am of this team," Hogan continued. "We accomplished so much this season, battling through a lot of challenging and difficult situations, but we grew from them and became stronger. I am very impressed with how this group represented the University of Denver throughout the season, and because of what we accomplished this year, the future of this program is very bright."
With the loss comes the end of the 2017 volleyball season, but more than that, the end of the careers of seven Pioneer seniors, who have taken the volleyball program to new heights never before reached. The class won four Summit League regular season titles, four Summit League Tournaments and made the NCAA Tournament all four years, while going a perfect 31-0 at home in league matches.
"Our senior class did an amazing job raising the level of our program by growing our team's culture," Hogan said.
Set One: The Pioneers tied set at four early on, but Cal Poly went on a 4-0 run to go in front 8-4 and the Pioneers weren't able to even the set again. After a Denver timeout, DU scored the next three points to cut the lead back to one with a kill from Tina Boe, a Boe/ Principato block and Mustang error. The Pioneers pulled within one again at 9-8 and 10-9, but the Mustangs were able to extend the lead back to four at 13-9. The lead stretched to five at 17-12, but the Pioneers responded to get back within three with another Cal Poly error and a Baird kill, causing a Mustang timeout. Out of the timeout, the Mustang lead fluctuated between four and five, and the Pioneers weren't able to get much closer before dropping the first set 25-20. Denver hit .222 in the set with 13 kills, six of which came from Baird. Anderson and Boteju each had six assists to lead the Crimson and Gold, and Boteju had three digs to lead DU. Boe and Principato combined for two blocks in the frame.
Set Two: Denver took its first leads of the match in the second set, at 1-0 and again at 3-2 after an Emma Willis and Becca Lathamblock. Cal Poly soon after claimed the lead at 4-3 and again at 5-4, and proceeded to pull ahead 14-8. The lead grew to seven at 17-10, causing a second timeout by Denver. The Pioneers responded, getting within five three times at 18-13, 21-16 and 22-17, but couldn't close the gap any further. Down to set point at 24-17, the Pioneers got a final kill from graduate student Teal Schnurr, but Cal Poly ultimately won the second set 25-18. Denver hit .280 in the set with 10 kills. Willis had four kills, Boteju and Anderson once again led in assists with four each, while Rooke led with three more digs. Becca Latham and Willis had the only block of the set for the Pioneers.
Set Three: Cal Poly took the early lead, but three early kills from Baird kept the Pioneers within closing distance at two at 6-4. However, they were unable to even the score in the set as the Mustangs went on to grow the lead to 11-6. Denver scored the next point off of a Principato and Willis block, but Cal Poly proceeded to take the next five of six points to go up 16-8. The Mustangs' lead grew to nine at 19-10 and again at 20-11, before it got as high as 11 at 22-11. The Pioneers fought back with four-straight points behind a kill from Anderson and two from Principato, as well as a Willis/ Principato block to make it 22-15. Down to its last point at 24-16, the Pioneers fought off match point twice times as a result of two Principato kills, but Cal Poly registered the needed point on the next play to take the set 25-18, and the match. Denver hit a match-high .353 and 14 kills. Principato and Baird each had five kills in the final set, each hitting .444 (5-1-9). Boteju led in assists with seven, and Rooke had five additional digs in the frame for the Pioneers. Boe and Baird combined for a block in the set, while Latham and Principato teamed up for two stops.
ABOUT THE SUMMIT LEAGUE
Through 35 years of Division I athletics, The Summit League offers 19 championship sports and has a combined enrollment of nearly 100,000 at eight institutions, including three located in top 60 U.S. metro populations and two land-grant universities. Member institutions include: Denver (University of Denver), Fort Wayne (Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne), North Dakota State University, Omaha (University of Nebraska Omaha), Oral Roberts University, the University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University and Western Illinois University with the University of North Dakota becoming an official member on July 1, 2018. Previously known as the Mid-Continent Conference, The Summit League rebranded in 2007 and has since produced nine NCAA Champions along with over 90 Academic All-Americans, nearly 100 All-America selections and numerous former student-athletes competing at the highest professional level. For more information about the league, visit www.thesummitleague.orgwebsite, follow The Summit League on Twitter @thesummitleague.