Volleyball Erases Two-Set Deficit, Tops St. Thomas To Advance To MIAC Championship

Posted on November 3rd, 2016 by

The Gusties erupt in the fifth set in front of an excited home crowd. (photos by Roisen Granlund '17, Gustavus Sports Information)


ST. PETER, Minn. – Trailing 2-0 after two sets Thursday, the Gustavus volleyball team was on the verge of ending its season and dropping the first match at home in two years. Instead, the Gusties got gritty and battled tooth and nail to steal a five-set victory over St. Thomas to advance to the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Playoff Championship. The Gusties dropped the first two sets 25-16, 29-27, but went on to claim victories of 25-22, 25-22, and 15-10. Gustavus now hosts Bethel at 7 p.m. Saturday in a rematch of last year’s MIAC Playoff Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships on the line.

Lauren Hanson celebrates a kill.

Lauren Hanson celebrates a kill.

“Credit to St. Thomas, they played scrappy defense and we weren’t quite matching that in the first two sets,” Head Coach Rachelle Sherden said. “We always say ‘be us,’ and we knew we weren’t playing to our abilities in the first two sets. We responded by getting tough mentally, stayed in the moment and played point-for-point. We got gritty.”

The two teams went back and forth to start the first set until the Tommies rattled off eight straight points en route to a 25-16 win. The second set was tight from the beginning with neither team leading by more than three points throughout the entire set. St. Thomas held set point at 24-21, but the Gusties battled back to tie the score three times at 25, 26, and 27. The Tommies finished off the set, though, with a kill and an ace.

Hope was all but lost midway through the third set with the Gusties trailing 17-11 and forced to take a timeout. The momentum completely shifted back in the home team’s favor after the break as the Gusties went on an 8-2 run to tie the game at 19-19. The Black and Gold took three of the next four points and held on for a 25-22 win to stay alive.

St. Thomas took another early lead in the fourth set at 10-6, forcing another Gustavus timeout. Again the Gusties found themselves with a 17-12 deficit midway through the set with St. Thomas in control of the momentum. Sherden took her second timeout at that point and her squad once again responded well with an 8-3 run to tie the score at 20-20 and force a St. Thomas timeout. The two teams traded points to get the score to 22-22, but a Hanna Albers (So., St. Louis, Mo.) kill followed by two Tommie errors gave the Gusties another three-point victory to force the fifth set.

Sam Haugen (7) and Taylor Trautman (3) go up for a block against St. Thomas' Whitney Lloyd.

Sam Haugen (7) and Taylor Trautman (3) go up for a block against St. Thomas’ Whitney Lloyd.

Gustavus started out on the right foot with a comfortable 6-2 advantage, but the Tommies charged back with a 6-1 run to force a Gustie timeout as the teams switched sides. Gustavus took two of the next three points to lead 10-9, but the true turning point was a one-on-one solo block by Taylor Trautman (Sr., Hutchinson, Minn.). On the next volley, the Gusties made the play of the night as Trautman dug out a blistering attack, Brittany Luethmers (So., Prior Lake, Minn.) raced to keep the ball up and Abby Leitch (Jr., Mankato, Minn.), from five feet behind the back line, over-head volleyed what appeared to be a free ball, but hit the tape and landed on St. Thomas’ side for a point that erupted the crowd at Gus Young Court.

“After Traut’s block and Abby’s kill, that totally changed the dynamic,” Sherden said. “It was unreal to begin with that Brittany got the touch to keep it alive.”

From that point on it was all Gustavus as it stunned the Tommies with an improbable come-from-behind victory.

Nora Holtan (So., Rochester, Minn.) proved her worth as the MIAC Player-of-the-Year, making incredible plays, particularly on the attack by catching Tommie defenders out of position. She registered 12 kills and a .393 hitting percentage, to go along with 56 assists and 11 digs for her third triple-double of the season and second against the Tommies.

Abby Leitch digs out an attack.

Abby Leitch digs out an attack.

“Nora has this fire in her and she is a born leader,” Sherden said. “She’s a captain and does a really good job of putting the ball where it needs to go and spreading our offense.”

Lauren Hanson (So., Redwood Falls, Minn.) led the offense with 17 kills, while Shaefer Rupar (Jr., Merrill, Wis.) added a season-high 14. Luethmers led the back line with 24 digs, while Leitch was also productive with 22 digs.

Gustavus advances to take on Bethel in the MIAC title game Saturday. Last season, the Gusties defeated the Royals in four sets to advance to the NCAA tournament.

“Our mentality will stay the same,” Sherden said. “It doesn’t matter who is on the other side of the net because you have to come ready to play in this conference. We are excited that we get to host and we will be ready to battle.”



  1. Kyhl Thomson says:

    Unbelievably gritty, gutsy, glorious, great effort by the Golden Gusties tonight. Enough G’s for ya all? Brought the whole family and we had a blast. Shout-out to softball player Emily Webb for her great play on the back line. Bring home the Chip ladies.

    Fun to watch!!!!

  2. Julie Dosch says:

    This was such an amazing match against two strong willed teams but I really and truly felt these Gustie girls were not ready to end their season! They are such a nice bunch of girls with great chemistry and never give up! Looking so forward to cheering on the girls Saturday night! Love the gusties volleyball team!!!