BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Santa Clara volleyball began the 2019 season and the Erin Lindsey era with a pair of victories on Friday at the Indiana Invitational. The Broncos swept Florida International 25-14, 25-20, 25-13 in the opener and rallied from a two-set deficit to defeat UT Martin 23-25, 22-25, 25-23, 25-9, 15-9 at Wilkinson Hall.
Freshman Julia Sangiacomo produced double-digit kills in both matches and totaled 25 for the day for the Broncos (2-0) in her debut. Liliana Light and Michelle Shaffer set Santa Clara to a .390 hitting percentage against the Panthers (0-2) and a .338 mark against the Skyhawks (0-2); Friday marked the first time Santa Clara hit .300 or better in consecutive matches since 2016.
MATCH 1: SANTA CLARA 3 FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL 0 (25-14, 25-20, 25-13)
Allison Kantor paced the Bronco offense by netting 14 kills on .464 hitting while Sangiacomo had 12 kills on .391 hitting. Santa Clara outblocked Florida International 13.5-4, led by 3.5 blocks from Light; Taylor Odom and Alexa Dreyer produced 3.0 blocks apiece.
Sidney Henderson led the Panthers with six kills. Santa Clara limited FIU to a .031 hitting percentage for the contest.
Florida International won the first two points of the opening set before Santa Clara rallied for three in a row. The Broncos did not trail for the rest of the match.
SCU seized momentum early in the first set by going on an 8-1 run to take a 12-5 lead; Dreyer had a kill and three blocks as part of the stretch. Santa Clara led by no fewer than five points the rest of the way and racked up 6.5 blocks in the opening frame.
In the second set, neither team led by more than three points until the Broncos won three in a row to take a 21-17 edge. Kantor produced the first two kills of the 3-0 run and had three of her four kills for the stanza as part of a 7-3 span to close out the set.
Santa Clara closed the third set on another strong stretch. Sangiacomo had two kills in a 6-0 spree to give the Broncos a 21-10 lead and they rolled that into a 10-3 run to complete the sweep.
Light totaled a match-best 22 assists while Shaffer had 19 for the Broncos. Gretchen Reinert produced a career-best and match-high 13 digs.
MATCH 2: SANTA CLARA 3 UT MARTIN 2 (23-25, 22-25, 25-23, 25-9, 15-9)
The Broncos turned around immediately after their win to face the Skyhawks in a close matchup. Santa Clara's Michelle Gajdka tied for the match lead with 19 kills and added 10 digs for a double-double. Sangiacomo's 13 kills came on a .407 hitting percentage and Dreyer hit a career-high .550 with 12 kills as the Broncos improved to 2-0. Reinert bested her career high from the first match and led all players with 22 digs.
UT Martin's Jessica Reynolds matched Gajdka with 19 kills and Gintare Mackeviciute added 10. Kenzie Hinshaw had a match-best 38 assists.
Trailing 2-0 after the break, Santa Clara battled back from a 6-1 deficit in the third set and took the lead for the first time at 16-15 on Light's back-to-back aces. Gajdka had two straight kills to cap a 6-0 run and put the Broncos on set point at 24-19. Reynolds came through with two kills as the Skyhawks won the next four points to cut to the deficit to one before Sangiacomo clinched the set with a kill for Santa Clara.
The Broncos rolled their third-set momentum into a dominant fourth set in which they hit .524. They jumped out to a 9-2 lead and won eight points in a row to end the frame and force a fifth set. In the deciding set, the Broncos started out on a 5-1 run and led the rest of the way; Sangiacomo sealed the match with an ace.
Neither side held more than a four-point lead in the closely-contested first two sets. In the first, the Skyhawks used an 11-5 run to pull in front 22-18; Mackeviciute produced three kills in that stretch. Santa Clara got back within a point at 24-23 before committing a service error to drop the first stanza. UT Martin won eight of 11 points in the back half of the second set for a 22-18 lead and kept at least a two-point advantage en route to a two-set lead.
Shaffer and Light each had 29 assists in the win; Shaffer added 13 digs for a double-double. Gajdka, Shaffer and Light each served up multiple aces.
QUOTABLE – HEAD COACH ERIN LINDSEY
On the overall play: "I was really proud of how the team came out and focused on our system, executed at a really high level and took care of the things we could control to put ourselves in the best position to score points. It was a really solid team performance. Julia had a big impact on the court. Our middles Alex, Taylor and Alexa all had great numbers and were pretty unstoppable. That also speaks to our passers' ability to put the ball up there for them."
On the comeback in the second match: "I was really proud of how we stuck to it and stayed resilient and determined. I made a decent amount of changes because I feel like we are going to need to be deep this year and have different options and looks. With that comes some transition and getting used to each other, and that's what we saw in the first two sets of the second match. We weren't taking care of the little things and we were pretty high error on the attack. We stayed patient and resilient through the momentum changes and brought Julia back into the match to help boost the offense in the third set. We started to clean everything up and got used to UT Martin's fast offense."
The Broncos face Marshall at noon (Pacific) on Saturday, then wrap up the tournament against the host Hoosiers at 5 p.m.
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