Volleyball

Volleyball Heads South to Face LMU Thursday; Match to be Broadcast on ESPNU

Kirsten Mead recorded a double-double in Santa Clara's four-set win at Gersten Pavilion last season.
Kirsten Mead recorded a double-double in Santa Clara's four-set win at Gersten Pavilion last season.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Santa Clara volleyball takes momentum from its lone match of last week, a sweep victory over San Francisco, into a Thursday night matchup at Loyola Marymount. The Broncos and Lions meet for an 8 p.m. first serve at Gersten Pavilion; the West Coast Conference match will be broadcast on ESPNU.

The Broncos (8-10, 1-6 WCC) used an efficient offense and strong defense to secure their first West Coast Conference victory of the season, a 25-18, 25-21, 25-20 sweep of the Dons on Friday in Leavey Center. The Lions (10-7, 3-3) return home after a two-match road stretch that included a sweep of Portland and three-set loss to Gonzaga.

Thursday's match marks the first meeting of 2017 between Santa Clara and LMU. Lion head coach Aaron Mansfield spent the last five seasons with the Broncos (2012-16) — including three as the team's associate head coach — before accepting the position at LMU last January.

Last season, Santa Clara topped the Lions in a close match 26-24, 25-21, 23-25, 25-22 in Los Angeles. Kirsten Mead registered a 35-assist, 14-dig double-double for the Broncos. Savannah Slattery had 12 kills and Jessie Prichard had a 53-assist, 10-dig double-double for LMU.

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THE BRONCOS

Mead logged a career-high five aces in Santa Clara's victory over its Bay Area rival last week. The senior setter has recorded four-plus aces six times in her Bronco career. Mead ranks second in the WCC in aces (24), aces/set (.36) and total assists (692) this season. Santa Clara has produced the conference's leader in aces/set in each of the last three seasons (Sabrina Clayton from 2014-16).

The Palo Alto, California native Mead is second all-time in career assists among Broncos that spent their entire careers in the rally-scoring era. She has 3,715 career assists, and needs 161 more to pass Julie Jamile (1987-90) and move into fifth-place all-time for SCU. Mead is also averaging a career-best 2.76 digs/set this season.

Michelle Gajdka led all players with 15 kills for her 11th match of the season with 10-plus kills last Friday. She has recorded 13-plus kills in three straight matches and four of the last five contests. Gajdka is hitting .294 with 47 kills in her last three matches.

The sophomore from San Francisco totaled 16 kills in 23 sets last season and needed only one match to best that kill total in 2017. Gajdka started the year with 19 kills in a five-set victory at American on Aug. 25.

Jensen Cunningham produced 12 kills against San Francisco to reach double-digit kills for the 13th time in 2017. The senior middle blocker is hitting .342 this season, 43 points higher than her .299 average in three seasons as a Bronco and 53 points higher than her 2016 hitting percentage of .289. Cunningham's career average of 1.00 blocks/set ranks seventh all-time for the Broncos and third in the rally-scoring era.

Taylor Laugero started at libero against the Dons and led all players with 17 digs. Laugero, who topped Santa Clara with 471 digs as a freshman last season, played in only six sets entering last week due to injury. The Broncos are 3-1 with Laugero on the court this year, also scoring victories over Idaho and No. 9 Kansas on Sept. 15. She was limited to two sets apiece against the Vandals, Jayhawks and San José State.

Allison Kantor notched career-best marks in kills during consecutive matches against Gonzaga (11 on Sept. 28) and Portland (21 on Sept. 30). She added 11 digs against the Pilots for her first career double-double. The redshirt freshman outside hitter started two of the team's first 14 matches and has made four consecutive starts since then. She has at least 11 kills and eight digs in three straight tilts.

THE LIONS

2017 Record: 10-7 (4-3 Home) | SCU All-Time vs. LMU: 34-38 | First Meeting: 1979
2016: 10/13 Loyola Marymount Won 3-0 in Santa Clara | 11/12 Santa Clara Won 3-1 in Los Angeles
The teams have split the season series for five straight years.

Loyola Marymount won three straight contests heading into Saturday's defeat at Gonzaga, scoring victories over Saint Mary's, Pacific and Portland during WCC play. Sara Kovac tops the team with 192 kills and 3.10 kills/set to lead a balanced offense alongside Slattery (176 kills) and Megan Rice (173 kills). Slattery totaled 28 kills in two matches against the Broncos last year.

The Lions lead the WCC and rank 13th in the country with 1.69 aces/set. Tess Reid has 22 aces to lead a side that boasts six players with 11-plus aces in 2017. As a team, Loyola Marymount has served up 105 aces while allowing only 53 for a nearly two-to-one edge from behind the line.

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GO BRONCOS!