SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Santa Clara volleyball was unable to complete a spirited comeback in Thursday's West Coast Conference matchup with Gonzaga, which downed the Broncos 25-19, 24-26, 25-18, 18-25, 16-14 in Leavey Center.
Sarah Penner tallied a team-best 15 kills on a .324 attack percentage and Alyse Whitaker added 12 by hitting .417 for the Bulldogs (8-7, 3-0) who remained perfect in league play.
Santa Clara trailed 13-9 in the final set before reeling off five straight points fueled by two kills each from Cunningham and Gajdka, but Gonzaga scored the final three points of the match. The Bulldogs evened the set at 14-all on an attack error and Faith Smith set up Jenna Kuehn and Chapin Gray for kills to close it out.
Cunningham and Gajdka helped send it to a fifth set. Two errors sandwiched around a Brittany Gillingham ace gave the Broncos a 23-18 lead in the fourth set and the Gajdka-Cunningham duo closed it out with kills.
Smith (26) and Kuehn (25) combined for 51 assists for the Bulldogs, who outhit the Broncos .275 to .230 on the night.
Kirsten Mead set up most of the Santa Clara kills, recording 55 assists and chipping in 13 digs. Allison Kantor had a career-high 11 kills, including three in the fifth set, and chipped in eight digs.
"They worked hard this week and came in early every day and committed themselves to getting better," head coach Jon Wallace said. "We have gotten better. We made a little switch in our lineup that gave us a little more firepower so we liked that change. We were really close to pulling that out. I like how we stayed in the match."
On the brink of going down 2-0 in the match, the Broncos rallied behind the play of Gajdka who had a kill to stave off set point at 24-22 and served on the final three points, a pair of attack errors and an ace.
Gonzaga pulled ahead by claiming the third set after posting a .344 attack percentage as Whitaker had four of the team's kills.
Jensen Cunningham (19 kills/17 digs), Michelle Gajdka (18 kills/17 digs) and Kirsten Mead (55 assists/13 digs) all recorded double-doubles in the match. Cunningham's marked the first of her career. Mead has nine on the season while Gajdka has five.
• The Broncos played without regulars Taylor Laugero and Chloe Loreen. Laugero has seen action in only three matches and none since the San José State game on Sept. 16. Loreen has missed the last two matches.
• Gajdka (18) recorded her ninth match of the season with double-digit kills.
• Cunningham (19) reached double figures in kills for the 11th time this season.
• Tessie Powers recorded 18 digs, one off her career high set at American on Aug. 25.
"This young group that we have is making a lot of errors. We just made less errors in that set. We're real close; I honestly believe it. We just have to grow up a little bit and be a little bit better in those moments."
Head coach Jon Wallace on what went right in the second and fourth sets
The Broncos play Portland on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Leavey Center.
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