by Ryan Sones
Taking a young and inexperienced team to the NCAA Regional Playoffs proved an invaluable experience for the No. 3 ranked University of La Verne women’s volleyball team, making its 12th NCAA playoff appearance. Its stellar 18-11 season came to a close in a first round loss to the No. 2 ranked UC San Diego Tritons in three games.
“We got beat by a better team out there tonight. What we lacked as a team could not be found on our side of the court and that was playoff experience. San Diego had a majority of seniors on their team while we had a rather inexperienced team supported by younger girls,” said head coach Jim Paschal. “We will be right back in the hunt next year stronger, more talented and not lacking the playoff experience.”
In the first game, both teams got off to a slow start, tied at 4-4 as each side traded sideouts. The Tritons, in their 14th NCAA playoff appearance, then established a pace that blew open the doors as they would go up on La Verne 11-5 led by senior outside hitter Dana Salter who ended the night with 12 kills. The Leopards were unable to answer and dropped the first game 15-5.
Right from the beginning of the second game, San Diego established the momentum as freshman middle blocker Sarah Henry (nine kills and seven digs) and outside Gina Medina (seven kills and 11 digs) tried to stop the runaway Triton Express. San Diego did just that the first game and routed the Leopards to their second loss of the match, 15-8.
“We came out a little young and youthful. It was easy to see that the girls had butterflies in the first two games. They finally did get it going in the third game but it was just a little late,” said assistant coach Don Flora. “All the breaks went San Diego’s way and they would gain momentum with every break that went their way. Not everyone played quite to their potential tonight.”
Early in the third game things started to turn around for ULV as junior setter Mercury Simonian (25 assists and six digs) began finding the groove, dishing the leather between Henry, Medina and freshman opposite hitter Jill Seaton.
La Verne went up 7-4 early on and managed to hold the Tritons to 10-6 until two calls by the head referee provoked ULV fans and handed the momentum back to San Diego. The Tritons then used the momentum and rallied taking the carpet right from under La Verne’s feet, going on to win the third game and the match 15-10.
Senior team captain Denise Rice said, “Most of the team was young and inexperienced at post season play at the college level. The games went up and down like a roller coaster ride, we just had more downs than ups.”
Freshman middle blocker Allison Moore added, “The first game we were just really intimidated I think, and by the time we knew we could challenge, it was too late and the momentum had changed sides.”
“Over all, this year I am really proud of these ladies. I think we had a great year considering the fact of the inexperience of the majority of the team,” Paschal said, summing up the season. “I am sure we surprised a lot of people out there and I can’t wait for next season.”