The USD volleyball team won its 14th game in a row to close out the regular season Tuesday night at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. This was a huge win for the Toreros, earning themselves a share of the West Coast Conference Championship with the BYU Cougars, a team they faced twice this season, winning one and losing the other. The Toreros were allowed an automatic bid due to the NCAA’s head to head points tiebreaker. The automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for USD will make it their 16th NCAA tournament appearance in the last 17 years.
The Toreros have an experienced and balanced roster that carried them to 14 straight wins to finish the season. USD finished this season amassing an overall record of 24-4, going 17-1 in the WCC, and while clinching the West Coast Conference for the first time since 2013.
Early exits in the past few seasons have put this team on the brink of making a run in the NCAA tournament. This team has all the pieces and experience to make a run this year and finish in the national spotlight.
With impressive slides and constant diving on the hardwood to prevent a kill, the ladies from USD worked effortlessly to stay ahead of the Wave in this game. Every player on the floor helped contribute to a kill or a save to keep the Toreros’ possessions alive. This bunch has a special kind of team effort and chemistry often shown in championship contenders and teams who are built to go on a deep postseason run.
The Pepperdine Waves jumped out to an excellent start, grabbing an early 15-7 lead in the first set. The Waves came into this matchup with little experience in big games. The Wave tamed the Toreros with their stifling defense in this set, trying to pull off a huge upset on the road. Pepperdine entered the contest leading the nation in blocks with 175. Pepperdine had the upper hand in the first set, causing USD to collect more errors than they had kills. The Toreros were unable to come back from a large deficit in the first set, losing by a score of 25-15.
The sluggish start to the game ended quickly for USD as they stayed ready to jump ahead when they had an opportunity. The Toreros displayed excellent ball movement under pressure and gained momentum to take their first lead of the night in the second set. USD’s passing and serving ability was too much for the Wave to contain as the Toreros took this set by a score of 25-18. The second set was a flash of the dominance they put together the last 13 games heading into this one.
The third set was just as exciting for both teams, who came out of the break looking to gain the upper hand in the contest. The Toreros came out with intensity, trying hard to extend their winning streak. Senior Kristen Gengenbacher placed the ball in all the right places needed for the servers up near the net. Juniors Addie Picha and Kaity Edwards led with authority near the net, helping to keep the ball alive. Picha ended the night falling just two kills shy of her single-game record with 12, and looked spectacular tonight while adding a team-leading four blocks, coming with only one error. Edwards finished the evening in double-digit kills with 10. USD won the third set 25-19 and took a 2-1 lead heading into the 4th set.
The fourth set was nearly head to head from start to finish. The exceptional team effort and chemistry was as good as advertised in the game-deciding set against Pepperdine. Pepperdine used their strong offensive attack to collect kills and force errors by the Toreros. The Wave’s attack was led by Sophomore’s Hannah Frohling and Jasmine Gross, who kept the Toreros moving on defense. Frohling finished the game with a team-leading 18 kills, while Gross also had a spectacular night, racking up 14 kills. Pepperdine finished with nine blocks on the night, while USD finished with six. This set was constantly veering back and forth between both schools as USD was unable to maintain a comfortable lead. The back and forth battle in the 4th set ended with a Toreros victory 25-22 before they celebrated as conference champions.
Kristen Gengenbacher was the catalyst for the Torero’ offense this season, and she showed why last night, finishing the contest with a total of 47 assists. Senior Jayden Kennedy is another honorable player who led the Toreros this season in kills, and had a strong showing with 16 kills to end her regular season. Senior Lizzy Tardieu was another player who played a key role in keeping the ball alive for USD. Tardieu finished with 18 digs on the night and proved how she can be a major boost to the team when she plays well. The back and forth battle in the 4th set ended with the Toreros going home victorious, winning 25-22 before celebrating as conference champions.
The USD volleyball team entered this matchup as one of the hottest teams in the county and showed why they are considered a serious championship contender from out west. The Toreros won their 14th game in a row and looked confident they can make a run in the NCAA tournament. These ladies will be waiting to see who awaits them in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday.
Be on the lookout for the USD volleyball team as they look to extend their winning streak to 15 games and attempt to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament beginning on December 1st.