Leopards shut down Lees-McRae

University of La Verne’s Ben Paine (No. 9) and Matt Cornell led the men’s volleyball team to a three-game sweep against Division II Lees-McRae College Monday night in the Supertents. The Leopards won, 30-27, 30-20, 30-28, with Cornell leading the team with 14 kills. This was La Verne’s first win over a Division II school this season. / photo by Jason Cortez
University of La Verne’s Ben Paine (No. 9) and Matt Cornell led the men’s volleyball team to a three-game sweep against Division II Lees-McRae College Monday night in the Supertents. The Leopards won, 30-27, 30-20, 30-28, with Cornell leading the team with 14 kills. This was La Verne’s first win over a Division II school this season. / photo by Jason Cortez

by Sara Lupu
Staff Writer

In a 3-0 sweep (30-27, 30-20, 30-28) of Lees-McRae College from North Carolina Monday night in the Supertents, the University of La Verne men’s volleyball team gained the confidence and momentum that it was looking for heading into its last five regular season games.

The match started out slow when the Bobcats grabbed the reins in the first game and looked as though they might run away with the match, leading 17-13. But a decision by the Leopards aided by a few key blocks and kills changed the pace and fueled a 30-27 win.

“We wanted to get a win,” junior outside hitter Elliot Naito said. “We’ve had a couple of tough losses and we’re hungry; we want the National bid.”

The next two games carried the same momentum that the Leopards had rallied for in the first, combined with stellar offensive performances by sophomore Matt Cornell and Naito, both hitting over 300 percent with 14 and 10 kills on the match, respectively.

“We worked on passing, serving and communication in general this last week,” sophomore middle Ben Paine said. “Guys who are usually quiet on the court were talking during the match, and that made a difference.”

The Bobcats’ Justin Wozniel put in an effort to stop the Leopards with 12 defensive digs on the night, but couldn’t get any offensive backup from his teammates.

Even with the win, the Leopards were not satisfied.

“We were maybe playing at 60 percent,” head coach Morgan Coberly said. “We’ve been complacent all year. We play bits and pieces of games, and you expect that with a young team like this, but it’s March, and it’s time to pull it all together.”

The Leopards finished the match Monday without outside hitter Dwayne Wibeto, who was taken to the hospital during the first game after separating the webbing of his fingers while going up for a block. Wibeto received three stitches and will be out until next week when his stitches will be removed.

With a 4-9 overall record, the Leopards are looking for much more out of this season, and expect nothing less then to be traveling to Virginia for the national tournament.

“We need to improve our passing and communication on the court, and focus on winning the rest of our matches,” Naito said.

“Playing tough and winning decisively over our next five opponents will make the Nationals’ selection easier.”

“At this point, it’s not our skill, it’s just about playing hard and focusing on what we need to do,” Coberly said. “If we win the majority of our remaining games, which we should, then by the criteria we should go to Nationals.”

Having a “team that is more like a family who looks out for each other is something that should make pulling together during this end of the season battle second nature for this team,” said sophomore setter Adam Hilton.

The Leopards will be in action at 7 p.m. tonight in the Supertents against National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics power Cal Baptist.

In the last match-up between the two teams Jan. 24., Cal Baptist swept the Leopards, 3-0, in the Supertents.

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