USAF ACADEMY, Colo. — Santa Clara volleyball fought through its third match in two days at altitude and second straight five-set contest to cap the Thin Air Challenge with a victory on Saturday night. The Broncos defeated Air Force 25-21, 24-26, 23-25, 25-22, 15-9 at Cadet East Gym.
Santa Clara (10-3) finished the tournament at 2-1 after defeating Montana in four sets on Friday morning before falling to Denver in five sets in the nightcap. The team is off to its best start in 13 matches since 2014, when it also opened up 10-3.
Three Broncos posted double-doubles: Julia Sangiacomo (17 kills, 12 digs), Liliana Light (31 assists, 11 digs) and Michelle Shaffer (21 assists, 17 digs). Gretchen Reinert topped the Broncos with 18 digs and Taylor Odom had a match-high 6.0 blocks. Allison Kantor added 14 kills and nine digs.
The Falcons (3-9) got double-double efforts from Vittoria Juarez (17 kills, 10 digs), Denise Ssozi (16 kills, 11 digs) and Andi Ahlers (39 assists, 19 digs).
Santa Clara closed the deciding set on a 9-2 run to win it 15-9 and claim the match. Kantor produced two kills during the stretch and Odom had a hand in the last two points with a kill, followed by a combined block alongside Shaffer to end the contest. The Broncos hit .368 in the final set, the best by either team in a single set for the night. There were as many lead changes (four) in the fifth set as there were in the first four sets.
The Broncos took control of the first set by breaking an 11-all tie with a 7-1 run to pull in front 18-12; the spree included two straight blocks by Odom. Santa Clara led by at least two points the rest of the way. The team outblocked Air Force 5-0 in the set and 12-7 for the tilt.
The Falcons stormed out of the gates in the second and third sets, leading 7-1 at the outset of the second and 7-0 at the start of the third. Santa Clara saved two set points and got level for the first time in the second set at 24-all before a kill by Bailey Keith and an attack error by Shaffer led to Air Force tying the match. The Falcons trailed 23-20 in the third before scoring the last five points of the set, which Ssozi capped by serving up an ace.
Santa Clara flipped the early-set script in the fourth, winning eight of the first 10 points in a stretch that included three kills from Sangiacomo. Following a 6-0 Falcon run that tied the set at 8-all, the Broncos won the next two points and led the rest of the way; Air Force pulled within one point five times.
QUOTABLE – HEAD COACH ERIN LINDSEY
On the match: "I thought we were passing well and creating opportunities, but our hitters needed to find different way to score. It was exciting to be in a match like that where we had to make changes and adjustments. We need to play matches and sets like this to learn how to win them. We found ourselves as a group in those moments of pressure and I was so proud of how the team stuck to it and wanted to be better than last night."
On Bronco setters: "We're looking at Michelle and Liliana to do a lot. In our system, they don't come off the floor and they don't get a break. They constantly have to work on thinking about what's next. That can be really challenging. Our setters are doing well defensively to make sure teams can't put up good scoring numbers by hitting to them and they're putting up good passes so we can set our attackers up to take big swings."
On libero Gretchen Reinert: "Gretchen as our libero is just grinding. She is on the court throughout these long matches and puts in a lot of work. Serve-receive can be a big grind and the teams we played this weekend served tough. You may not always see it in the numbers, but she's on top of it and captaining our back row and our defense and doing a nice job for us."
Santa Clara opens West Coast Conference play Thursday at Loyola Marymount, then faces Pepperdine on the road on Saturday.
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