Volleyball Captures Denver Invite Title

Junior Deja Harris was named MVP of the Denver Invitational after the Aztecs knocked off the host Pioneers on Saturday.
Sept. 16, 2017

Final Stats vs. Gonzaga | Final Stats vs. Denver

DENVER -- The San Diego State volleyball team posted two victories on Saturday at the Denver Invitational, defeating Gonzaga in a 3-2 nail-biter (25-18, 25-21, 19-25, 21-25, 15-10), before knocking off the host Pioneers by a 3-1 count (20-25, 25-22, 25-20, 28-26) at Hamilton Gymnasium.

With the sweep, the Aztecs captured the tournament title with a 2-1 record, wrapping up their 2017 non-conference slate with a 6-7 mark heading into next Thursday's Mountain West opener at Utah State.

Individually, junior Deja Harris garnered MVP honors for the weekend, while senior Alexis Cage and sophomore Ashlynn Dunbar were named to the all-tournament team. Harris hit a team-high .427 in three matches, averaging 3.21 kills and 1.36 blocks per set, while Cage (2.14 kps, 2.86 dps) notched a pair of double-doubles. In addition, Dunbar turned in a fine all-round performance as well with 2.36 kills, 2.14 digs and 0.79 blocks per frame.

Against Denver (9-3), SDSU received double-digit kills from four players, including 15 apiece by Deja Harris and sophomore Hannah Turnlund, while Dunbar launched 14 non-returnables of her own. In addition, Cage totaled 11 kills and a match-high 19 digs.

The kill totals were career highs for both Turnlund and Dunbar, while Harris also contributed six total blocks, including three solos. Not to be outdone, freshman Gabi Peoples got into the act with a personal-best 47 assists to go with six digs and three blocks, while senior Devyn Pritchard logged her sixth straight match with double-digit digs, finishing with 13 scoops for the evening.

Despite trailing in total blocks (14.0-8.0), the Aztecs outhit the Pioneers (.257-.231) and held a 63-56 advantage in kills and a 57-51 margin in digs to help key the victory.

Both sides launched 14 kills apiece in the opening set; however, Denver capitalized on eight SDSU attack errors, outhitting the Scarlet and Black .444-.182 in the frame. The teams battled through 10 ties, including a 17-17 deadlock, before the host school closed with an 8-3 surge, punctuated by an Emma Willis kill and an errant Aztec swing.

The second stanza was also a see-saw affair, with the two foes combining for 13 ties and nine lead changes. The Pioneers nursed a slim 21-20 lead after Becca Latham and Tina Boe joined forces on a block. However, it was SDSU's turn to finish strong, as the visitors reeled off five of the next six points to even the match at one set apiece. Turnlund keyed the run with two put-aways, while a bad set provided the clinching tally.

In set number three, Denver built a series of four-point leads, including a 10-6 spread following a service error, before the Aztecs responded with a timely 10-3 outburst to jump ahead for good. Turnlund and senior Baylee Little sparked the run with two kills each, while Harris added a non-returnable of her own to go with a solo block.

Leading 16-13, SDSU twice upped its advantage to four, including a 20-16 spread after a wayward Pioneer serve. Denver notched three of the next four points to pull within two, but the Aztecs maintained the upper hand, finishing the set with a 4-1 spurt.

With the momentum on its side, SDSU seemed poised to cruise through the fourth frame, fashioning a sizeable 17-9 lead after a kill by Peoples. However, the Pioneers had other ideas, unleashing a 13-5 blitz to tie the score at 22-22.

Denver twice reached set point, including a 25-24 margin following a Latham kill, but the Aztecs flashed their resolve once again, vanquishing their adversary with a 4-1 match-securing run, highlighted by Harris and Turnlund, who blasted two kills each during that stretch.

The Pioneers were led by Kayla Principato (.371), who knocked down a match-high 16 kills, while Willis finished with 10 put-aways. In addition, Boe contributed 10 blocks, including eight assisted, while Cassidy Rooke had 16 digs in the loss.

Earlier against Gonzaga, SDSU was paced by Harris, who hit .429 with a match-high 14 kills and seven block assists, while fellow junior Alexandra Psoma notched 12 put-aways of her own.

In addition, the Aztecs received a pair of double-doubles from Cage (11 kills, 11 digs) and Dunbar (10 kills, 14 digs), while Peoples handed out 44 assists to go with eight digs.

As a team, SDSU maintained the statistical advantage in most categories, including attack percentage (.227-.153), kills (61-54), digs (62-52) and total blocks (11.0-7.0). After racing to a 2-0 in sets, however, the Aztecs hit a collective .019 over the third and fourth frames, allowing the Bulldogs (4-7) to climb back into contention.

Undaunted, the Scarlet and Black found its offensive rhythm in the decisive fifth set, blasting 10 kills with just four errors on 25 attempts (.280) while limiting the opposition to just four kills with four errors on 21 swings (.000).

The Aztecs trailed 4-3 in the final frame, before seizing momentum with a 12-6 closing run. Turnlund knocked down all four of her kills in the set, hitting .429 in the process, while Cage (.500) added three.

The first two sets were much tighter battles, with the two sides combining for 22 ties and 12 lead changes. In the opening stanza, SDSU found itself on the wrong side of a 15-13 tally, before reeling off four straight points to take the lead for good at 17-15. Gonzaga took advantage of an errant Aztec serve on the ensuing point but could draw no closer, as the Scarlet and Black finished strong with an 8-2 run, punctuated by a pair of Dunbar kills.

Set number two was no less dramatic, as SDSU displayed a strong finishing kick once again, utilizing a late 6-2 spurt to break a 19-19 deadlock. Cage and Little ignited the run with a pair of kills, while Dunbar assisted on a pair of blocks moments later to help the Aztecs maintain the upper hand.

The Zags turned the tables in the third frame, limiting SDSU to a minus-.087 hitting percentage, as the Aztecs committed 10 errors against only eight kills on 23 attempts. Gonzaga grabbed the first two points and never looked back, ultimately increasing its advantage to 20-11 after a Chapin Gray service ace. SDSU cut the margin to 24-19, but the comeback came too little too late, as a Jenna Kuehn kill provided the clinching point.

The Aztecs found themselves trailing by as many as four points on four occasions in the fourth set, including an 18-14 deficit after a kill by the Bulldogs' Payton Mack. SDSU responded with a 5-1 surge to tie the score at 19-19, capped by a Harris non-returnable.

However, the Aztecs were unable to grab the upper hand, as Gonzaga registered the next four points to seize control. SDSU committed two attack errors down the stretch, while Kaylie Loewen and Sarah Penner provided kills for the Zags, setting the stage for the pivotal fifth set.

Gonzaga was led by Penner, who collected 11 kills on the day, while Loewen and Alyse Whitaker finished with 10 put-aways each.

San Diego State wraps up its six-match road swing next week when it travels to Utah State (Sept. 21) and Boise State (Sept. 23) to open Mountain West competition.

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