Eamonn McCullough – Staff Writer
Moorhead is a bit of a drive from beautiful St. Peter, Minnesota, but the Gustavus volleyball team made the most of the road trip this past Sunday, April 11, to face Concordia, winning all three sets. The scores ended up 25-23, 25-18, and 31-29 respectively.
Additionally, after netting a team-leading 18 kills and a 0.317 hitting percentage during Sunday’s game, Senior Kate Holtan earned recognition as the MIAC Volleyball Offensive Player of the Week.
Although the Gusties came away with a decisive victory, the Cobbers did not go down without a fight. In fact, Gustavus trailed for much of the first set before the Gusties reset the momentum with a string of points, punctuated by the set-winning kill from Holtan.
“The first set was very close. I feel like it was a matter of getting the first game jitters out of the way. We had to get used to playing someone other than our own teammates in a gym that was not our own. I’m really proud of how we came back from being down in the first set, it took a lot of grit and determination,” Sophomore Sarah Elliot said.
Elliot would go on to play a prominent role in the team’s victory on the day, highlighted by a kill during the tense ending of the final set. Prior to that, the Gusties fought the Cobbers closely in the early minutes of the second set before charging off with a 9-3 scoring streak. They would not trail again during the set, winning handily 25-18. Gustavus did their best to maintain that momentum throughout the third set, but the Cobbers kept scoring tight. Indeed, the lead changed ten separate times throughout the game. The end of the set surely kept fans watching virtually on the edge of their seats, with both Gustavus and Concordia taking timeouts when each team had a score greater than 19. The Gusties were able to take advantage of multiple Cobber service errors to drive up the score, but it wasn’t until the Cobbers unsuccessfully served the match point twice that Gusties Holtan and First-year Marlee Turn turned the tide to benefit the Gusties, 30-29. The victory was clinched by a Cobber attack error on the next volley.
“I am most proud of the fight that our team displayed this weekend. Everyone proved that they want to be on that court and will do whatever they need to do to win. Our kill efficiency was stellar and our defence was playing extremely scrappy. Overall, I’m really proud of how our team came together to get our first win,” Elliot said.
It wasn’t just the opposing team that the Gusties were fighting this past weekend, however, and the court wasn’t the only difference to be overcome for the win. Although COVID safety protocols introduced a challenging barrier to the team atmosphere, the Gusties took it in stride.
“The game looked a little different because of COVID. We were not allowed to shake hands with Concordia before or after the match, masks were on at all times, the bench was spread out with each chair six feet apart, and there were no fans. Our team did a very good job adapting to this. I feel like the weirdest one was the bench because volleyball is a sport so focused on team chemistry and cheering,” Elliot said.
“I think this is probably how our season is going to look for the rest of the year, but I feel like everyone is just grateful to be able to be out on the court competing again,” Elliot said.
For Holtan, a three-time AVCA All-American honorable mention, being back on the court and facing another collegiate team for the first time since 2019 meant another opportunity to post team-leading stats that caught the attention of the entire conference. In addition to her kills and attack percentage, Holtan averaged six kills per set, eight total digs, and an ace while serving to cement her honors as MIAC Offensive Player of the Week. Although off to a strong start, the Gusties are looking forward to improving further leading into their next game.
“I am very excited to see how we play against another team on our home court, I think it should be really fun. I’m also excited to see our blocking and serving pick up in these upcoming weeks because we are extremely strong in those areas well,” Elliot said.
The Gusties are back in action at home this coming Sunday, April 18, starting at 3 p.m.