SFU defeats Northwest Nazarene in straight sets

Emma Jennings finished the game with 11 kills.

A night after the women’s soccer team beat the Northwest Nazarene Crusaders 3–0 on home turf, the volleyball team took its turn, winning a 3–0 sweep against the Idaho rivals in the West Gym on Friday.

Despite the seemingly easy win — with SFU winning the three sets 25–21, 25–18, 25–15 — there were a lot of unforced errors, and many of the sets lasted longer than SFU would have liked. But with the win, they aren’t complaining.

“It’s always nice to get a conference win, so I’m happy with the result,” said head coach Gina Schmidt. “We had a few lapses of letting them back in the game with some unfocused play, but we did a good job of refocusing and getting the job done.”

In the first set, SFU quickly jumped out to a 10-point lead, 16–6. However, they let the Crusaders right back into the set with a five-point run, and eventually founds themselves up by only 22–21. After a timeout, three straight points gave SFU the set.

Midway through the second, Northwest Nazarene found its first lead of the game at 14–12, after a four-point run. A nine-point run gave SFU a decisive lead, and the Clan won the set by seven points.

SFU didn’t surrender the lead at all during the third set. After the first two serves, they led by at least two points, ending with a 10-point victory.

Middle blocker Tessa May led the attack with 16 kills, while senior outside hitters Emma Jennings and Devon May both put up double-digit kills — 11 each. Jennings leads the team in kills with 162 over the course of the season, while Devon is close behind with 157.

Libero Alison McKay was key on the defensive side of the game, putting up 14 digs. McKay leads the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) for digs with 358.

Just over halfway into the 2016 season, if SFU can keep up its winning ways, the team appears to be in contention for an NCAA Division II playoff spot.

Just eight teams from the West Region — which contains the GNAC, as well as the California Collegiate Athletic Association and PacWest conferences — make the playoffs. The three division leaders gain automatic entry, while the next five best teams from any of the three conferences gain an invitation. Last year, three GNAC teams — Alaska Anchorage, Central Washington, and Western Washington — made it.

With a 12–2 record against West Region opponents (as only one of SFU’s non-conference games was also a non-regional game), it seems that SFU should have a fighting chance, GNAC title or not. Even Alaska Anchorage, the GNAC leader and team currently on track for an automatic playoff berth, is not untouchable with a 7–0 conference record.

But SFU doesn’t have much breathing room. The win kept SFU in sole possession of second place in the GNAC with a 6–1 conference record. With two teams immediately behind SFU in the standings, the Clan can’t afford to lose too many games. Had Northwest Nazarene won, SFU would have been drawn into a four-team tie for second place.

“The conference is really tight, so every game is important, every win is important, so we’re just focusing on one game at a time and that’s all you can do with a conference this tight,” said Schmidt.

TONIGHT: The Clan takes on the Central Washington Wildcats at 7 p.m. in the West Gym. The Wildcats are one of the two teams immediately behind SFU with a 5–2 record.

Central Washington leads the entire NCAA Division II in blocking, with 2.74 blocks per set. Last season, SFU lost both games to the Wildcats in five sets.

“[They’re] a big physical team, so we’ve got to make sure we’re mixing up our offence, keeping them off balance and hopefully serving them tough to keep them out of system,” said Schmidt.