In their last meeting on Oct. 24, Boise State and San Diego State endured a five-set, two-and-a-half hour match that ended in a 3-2 Bronco victory. The teams’ second and final meeting of the regular season on Nov. 23 presented a similar back-and-forth battle, but Boise State commanded a 3-1 win.
Not only would the victory serve as a successful end to the Broncos’ 18-11 season, but it will never be forgotten by three particular players on the roster: seniors Janell Walley, Cassedi Simon and Celine Christensen. On a day dedicated to their last home match as Broncos, each senior left their mark on the score, as well as on the entire program.
“The first thing you’re going to notice from the group of three seniors is character. They are handling their business in the classroom, they’re really good socially where they’re not causing any problems,” said head coach Shawn Garus. “They’re also great in the community. Those are foundations that are important for our program and really any program here at Boise State; you’re not going to be a successful student-athlete if you don’t buy into those things.”
A dominant performance by Boise State in the first set seemed to set the stage for a perfect Senior Day. Christensen subbed in and slammed down two kills, marking her season-high. Simon had two of her four service aces of the day, cruising past her season-high of one.
“Not only did [Simon] serve tough, but she also made a couple of critical digs for us to extend some rallies, so [I am] really proud that she had that opportunity,” Garus said. “Celine as well; she had some opportunities in the first set to go in there and got a couple of kills, so it just couldn’t have ended better for those three seniors.”
The Broncos and Aztecs went back and forth until a 6-0 Bronco run broke the set wide open.
SDSU dug themselves a hole with eight errors, and Boise State scored 13 points to the Aztecs’ two. A block from Walley and Jessica Donahue ended the set 25-10.
Things went south for the Broncos in the second set, and it seemed as though a repeat five-set battle was awaiting Bronco Gym. The Aztecs came out firing after their error-ridden first set and took a 7-2 lead. They went on to pick up a 10-4 run as the Broncos struggled to recover.
“I think we were honestly beating ourselves in the second set,” Walley said. “We weren’t hitting well, we were passing bad, we weren’t digging defensively, we weren’t putting blocks up that we needed to. So it was our side of the net that we needed to fix.”
The Broncos had four errors and just eight kills in the second set. The Aztec’s last seven of 18 kills created an insurmountable gap, and they secured the set 25-13.
“That wasn’t us playing that second set; it wasn’t our style of play,” Simon said. “We just got together and said, ‘Hey, like, that wasn’t okay, we shouldn’t be doing that.’ We just buckled down and really said, ‘We need to go. Right now.’”
With the set-score tied and a Senior Day victory on the line, the Broncos knew they had to adjust against a hopeful San Diego State.
The Broncos snagged the third set 25-21 after being tied five different times late in play. The team then secured the fourth set 25-20 after gaining the lead at 15-14 and never relinquishing it.
Each set’s high-intensity momentum kept the crowd on the edge of their seats throughout the day. The final point of the match was everything that a Boise State volleyball fan could have wanted: a slam-down block from none other than Walley.
“I was definitely really excited. I mean, it’s my bad arm and that girl had ripped a ball off of me earlier and I was really pissed off,” Walley said. “So I was coming for her and to end the game like that, I was really excited [and]really pumped, for sure.”
The moment was a perfect way to cap off Walley’s notable career of 885 kills, 132 assists, 89 service aces, 1,023 digs, 281 blocks and 1,119.5 points.
“It was a bittersweet moment. Me and Celine were on the bench and we looked at each other and Celine goes, ‘I hope Walley gets this block,’ and then she gets it and I freaked out. I’m so
glad it was her,” Simon said. “[Walley has] done so much for this team. Everyone has impacted me in such a positive way. It was awesome to see that last point go straight down.”
The Broncos will receive word of a potential postseason opportunity on Dec. 1. The last time the team reached a postseason tournament was the 2017 National Invitational Volleyball Championship. It was just the second postseason appearance in program history, the first being in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
And on that historic 2016 team were three familiar faces: Walley, Simon and Christensen.
“I hope that we’ll get another opportunity like that this year,” Garus said. “[The seniors] model the behavior that we need to have every day, whether we are in a postseason match or just going to practice on a Tuesday. I think they learned early what it takes to win at a really high level in Division I volleyball, and they have helped teach every kid underneath them what it takes.”