DENVER — Santa Clara volleyball split matches on day one of the Thin Air Challenge Friday in its final doubleheader day of the 2019 season. The Broncos defeated Montana 26-24, 23-25, 25-12, 25-16 in the opening match before falling to Denver 28-30, 15-25, 25-21, 25-23, 15-10 at Hamilton Gymnasium.
SCU (9-3) rolled through the third and fourth sets against Montana (0-9) after the teams split two close frames to start the match. The Pioneers (7-3), who have reached five straight NCAA Tournaments, rallied from a two-set deficit and won a back-and forth fifth set to outlast the Broncos in their first match of the day and Santa Clara's nightcap.
SANTA CLARA 3 MONTANA 1 (26-24, 23-25, 25-12, 25-16)
Santa Clara's Taylor Odom led all players with a career-high 16 kills on .500 hitting, and posted a season-best 11 blocks to finish one shy of matching her career-high mark in that category. Michelle Shaffer also registered a double-double with 17 assists and 10 digs alongside four blocks and three aces. Julia Sangiacomo posted 10 kills and Gretchen Reinert led the Broncos with 12 digs.
Montana's Missy Huddleston led the team with 11 kills and Sarina Moreno had a match-best 14 digs.
After the Grizzlies knotted the match up at one set apiece, the Broncos controlled play during the third and fourth frames for their second straight victory. Montana hit .317 in the first two sets and -.042 in the last two sets.
Odom chipped in two kills to help Santa Clara win the first four points of the third set and the team went on to lead 14-4. The middle blocker tallied four blocks in the last 14 points, including a block assist along with Kathryn Decker to seal the stanza.
In the fourth, the Broncos turned a 7-all tie into a 20-10 lead on the strength of a 13-3 spree; they led by at least six points en route to closing out the match for their ninth win of the year. Santa Clara produced seven of its season-high 17 blocks in the fourth set.
The first two frames were each decided by two points and featured 17 ties as well as five lead changes.
Santa Clara led 21-14 in the first stanza before Montana rallied to tie the score at 23-all. Odom came through with a kill to put the Broncos on set point at 24-23, and three points later, she delivered an ace to give the Broncos the early match lead.
SCU led 4-0 and 8-3 in the second and Montana tied the score four times before taking their first lead of the frame on Elsa Godwin's kill to make the count 18-17. Amethyst Harper turned in consecutive kills to clinch the team's first set win of the season.
DENVER 3 SANTA CLARA 2 (28-30, 15-25, 25-21, 25-23, 15-10)
Sangiacomo racked up a career-high and match-best 22 kills for the Broncos; Allison Kantor (13), Odom (13 on .579 hitting) and Alexa Dreyer (10 on .526 hitting) also finished in double figures. Michelle Shaffer posted Santa Clara's first 20-20 match since 2017 on the strength of 22 assists and a career-best 22 digs; she has eight double-doubles in 12 matches. Liliana Light also had a double-double with a match-high 31 assists and 13 digs.
Amanda Green led the Pioneers with 14 kills, while Lydia Bartolo had 13 and Ari Winters added 11. Macy Carrabine led all players with 25 digs.
The Pioneers (7-4) came out on top after a back-and-forth fifth set. The Broncos won the first two points before the teams traded 6-0 runs that put Santa Clara on top 8-6. Denver answered by taking five straight points, including three in a row on blocks, and won the last three points of a 15-10 frame.
Denver won close third and fourth sets that were decided by a total of six points. The Pios trailed 11-7 in the fourth stanza before winning 10 of the next 12 and 15 of the next 18 points. Santa Clara fell behind 6-2 in the fourth frame and fought back to tie the match at 17-all and Denver won four of the next five points and led the rest of the way to force a fifth set.
The Broncos saved five set points in the first frame and won it 30-28 on back-to-back combined blocks from Odom and Light. Santa Clara rolled that momentum into a wire-to-wire second-stanza victory, posting a scorching .667 hitting percentage.
QUOTABLE – HEAD COACH ERIN LINDSEY
On the Montana match: "They came out with a different look; they had a setter we hadn't seen and that helped them get off to a good start. Ultimately, what we thought we would be able to do is affect their ability to run their offense from the service line and that's what worked for us. We eventually found our rhythm offensively and were able to close it out. I was happy with our composure through that and working on creating opportunities for ourselves."
On the Denver match: "It was a good match and true volleyball battle in the serve and pass game between two good teams with some pretty good offense. Denver is a great team – they win their conference all the time – and have played a tough nonconference schedule; they're not afraid of anyone or anything. They ran a really fast system and that was an adjustment for us compared to this morning."
On the Bronco lineup: "Both Taylor Odom and Alexa Dreyer were scoring well today and Taylor had some great numbers. Julia had a nice match in a long battle against Denver; she handled knowing the opposition was expecting her to get the ball and some out-of-system balls really well."
The Broncos won all six neutral-site matches on the schedule this season, featuring victories over Florida International, UT Martin, Marshall, CSUN, Cal State Bakersfield and Montana.
Gretchen Reinert posted 10-plus digs in the first 11 matches of the season.
The Broncos travel to the U.S. Air Force Academy on Saturday for a 5:30 p.m. PT matchup against the Falcons to finish up the tournament.
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