By Sam Wilson
A program-best season and four-year senior class came to a close over the weekend for the Gannon University volleyball team, but there’s still time to shine a light on the accomplishments for Cattaraugus-Little Valley graduate Sara Crandall and her teammates.
Crandall, a senior defensive specialist (libero), helped the Golden Knights reach their first-ever NCAA semifinal round after winning a Division II quarterfinal in the Elite Eight in Pensacola, Fla. at the University of West Florida. And she finished the year with the school’s single season record for digs (668).
Gannon (32-7) swept Regis University Friday in the Elite Eight, 25-20, 28-26, 25-17, before falling Saturday to Florida Southern College, 16-25, 25-15, 25-23, 24-26, 15-12.
Crandall had 28 digs in the loss to Florida Southern, as the team marked 104 total.
“I’ve said this before and Coach (Matt Darling) mentioned it, but our block is just so good, they make it easy to read around them, they get good touches on the ball and if they weren’t that good we would not have triple digits,” Crandall said in the team’s post-match NCAA press conference. “It’s easy to read around them and I trust that what they set up is going to take away and I can be where I need to be to get the dig.”
Crandall said the team felt confident forcing the fifth set, getting to the brink of the NCAA championship match.
“We felt good going into the fifth,” she said. “We’ve played a lot of fifth-set matches this year, so we felt confident, we felt at home playing that. It felt good. Obviously we let it go and as coach said, Florida Southern, they put the ball away and they gave the ball to who (they) needed to put it away. But as far as how it felt, it felt great being there and at least taking them to five games. It’s where we wanted to be, it’s an opportunity and we enjoyed it.”
At C-LV, the daughter of Patti and Joe, Crandall starred in volleyball and softball, making the all-state teams in both. At Gannon, she played all four years including the last three as the team’s main defensive specialist for coach Matt Darling. She finishes with 1,872 career digs, second-most in program history and has the school’s first (2017), third (2015) and fourth (2016) highest single-season dig totals.
The 5-foot-7 occupational therapy major’s 668 digs in 2017 set the school’s single season record by nearly 100, topping Taryn Graham’s 2013 record of 580.
Her graduating class became the school’s first to win 100 games with 111 through last weekend (31-4 in 2014, 24-11 in ‘15 and 24-7 in ‘16).
“The team’s overall performance was remarkable,” Darling said in the Saturday NCAA press conference. “These two (sitting next to Crandall and Kelsey Ansec) along with two other seniors who played four years for me — we have seven seniors, three of them came into the program a little bit later — the worst part of every season is having to tell your seniors for the last time how much you appreciate their effort in the locker room. We can tell them at the banquet and all that, but in the context of the team that’s a very special moment. That’s between us, really, but part of that was to thank them for their great effort.
“They set a great example for the young kids. I have three freshmen playing pretty important roles on this team and if they’re as smart as Gannon thinks they are by letting them into school, they’ll look at these four and find a way forward to have a great career because these guys have done pretty much nothing but win for four years.”
Crandall and four other teammates made the all-regional team after winning three matches in the Atlantic Regional in Wheeling, W.Va.
Darling gave “hat’s off” to Florida Southern, which went on to fall to Concordia-St. Paul in the championship, and to the NCAA and host school West Florida, as his season closed.
“We’ll hold our heads up high having performed at a pretty high level for this whole tournament,” Darling said. “We’re competitors, we’re not just happy to be here, we wanted to win that match, but we gave it what we had.”