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Gulf Coast takes 10th at national tournament

Gulf Coast wrapped up its stay at the NJCAA Division II Volleyball Championship tournament in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday morning with a five-set loss to Kirkwood.

The Lady Commodores (23-8), who came in as the No. 6 seed, finished the tournament 2-2, dropping their opener on Thursday to No. 11 McHenry County before bouncing back to win two matches Friday against No. 14 Oakland in three sets and No. 7 Northeast in five.

Saturday’s contest with No. 9 Kirkwood went five sets as well, with Gulf Coast taking the first set 25-20, dropping the second and third 25-18 and 25-22, and then winning the fourth 25-20 to force a fifth and decisive set.

Kirkwood won four of the first five points in the fifth before Gulf Coast rallied to take 10 of the next 13 thanks to five kills from Emma Richards to go up 11-7.

The Lady Commodores led 13-10 after a serving error by Kirkwood and a kill by Rachael Passarello.

A kill by Aubrin Dittmer got the serve back for the Eagles and Madi Wagaman proceeded to serve out the set and the match.

Dittmer came up with two straight kills to level the set at 13-13, and Gulf Coast had two attacking errors in a row to give the Eagles the set.

“We had the lead and got stuck in a tough rotation for us in serve receive and did everything we could, but they played really well and we didn’t execute,” Gulf Coast coach Scott Allen said of the close of the fifth set. “It was tough timing for us. If we would’ve had a different rotation at that point it’s probably a different story, but that’s the way the game is.”

Dittmer and Anna Gorsuch led Kirkwood with 17 kills each, followed by Taylor Carey with 13 kills.

Richards had a team-high 18 kills for the Lady Commodores, with Passarello adding 15 kills, Riley Edwards 11 kills, and Cassidi Gant 10 kills. Amber Grant also had seven kills.

Ava Shmueli led Gulf Coast with 53 assists, four ace serves, and 19 digs, while Anna Merrill Goolsby had 14 digs, and Passarello had 10 digs.

Despite not ending the season the way they wanted, it was still an impressive overall campaign for the Lady Commodores, who won their first-ever region title and went to the national tournament for the first time.

Allen said it was an important season to establish what the Gulf Coast program can be moving forward.

“I think it shows the region and the area that we can be a location, a destination for these athletes that are local that are small D-I or D-II athletes who want to stay close,” he said. “We can be competitive, we can win conference championships, go to the national tournament and compete when we get there.”

The Lady Commodores had just four sophomores, so they could potentially return the vast majority of their team in 2020.

For those that do return, Allen said their experience in Charleston could prove valuable for their next postseason run.

“The biggest takeaway is getting to see the level of competition and the freshmen getting the chance to see that they can compete with anyone here,” he said. “The difference right now is the other teams are a little more consistent.

“But getting to see this level so the girls have a little more confidence going into next year and having a fire to get back there, and also trying to fix some things we’re not doing so well right now. We’re ready to hit the recruiting trail a little more and retool and replace some of the sophomores we’re losing.”

 

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