by Chrissy Zehrbach
With no post season to look forward to, the University of La Verne men’s volleyball team took on California Baptist University with nothing to lose, except the game itself.
The Leopards (7-11) were defeated in their final game of the season, 3-0 (32-30, 30-20, 30-23), April 2 at Van Dyne Gymnasium in Riverside after learning March 29 that they would not be traveling to the Division III Molten Invitational. Instead, their rival, University of California Santa Cruz received the West Coast bid to the national tournament, the team’s first ever.
The Leopards had been hoping for the at-large bid, but realized that after losing to the Slugs Feb. 28 in Santa Cruz it was out of reach.
“That’s our main goal, and putting ourselves into a position to get to that point by taking care of Santa Cruz as a rival, we didn’t do that up there,” head coach Morgan Coberly said. “Those are our goals and we didn’t do it. That’s OK, it just gives us more fire and more motivation to do it the following year.”
A committee made the decision based on different criteria, most of which should have given ULV the bid.
“They went outside their own criteria to select Santa Cruz,” assistant coach Will Paulson said. “It’s frustrating. We feel like they deliberately didn’t want us there.”
The team, as well, is disappointed, as would be expected.
“It’s a pretty big disappointment but at the same time it was in our hands,” sophomore outside hitter Ricky Estrada said. “We could have easily won the second Santa Cruz game and we would have been in the driver’s seat.”
Without national pressure on it’s shoulders, ULV put forth possibly the best effort it had all season.
“It’s hard sometimes when the season is over; it’s real easy just to quit,” Coberly said. “I think if we’ve learned anything this year it was that it’s not okay just to stroll through matches. If you want to win and if you want to beat good teams you have to play hard all the time. I was really happy to see that, even though there was nothing to play for essentially, they found something to play for and they played hard.”
“We wanted to prove to everyone else that maybe we should have gotten picked to go to the Final Four,” Estrada said. “We didn’t want to just come here and fool around and get our butts kicked. We wanted to at least prove that if we played well here then maybe it would show everyone else that maybe they made the wrong choice.”
In the strong outing against the Lancers, ULV put forth heart and intensity, nearly taking game one of the contest.
Down 8-4, the Leopards went on a 6-1 run to take the slim 10-9 lead. They stuck with CBU point by point, tying the game a total of 13 times.
Tied at 28, ULV surged on, stepping up for game point only to tie the game at 29 on a blocking error. From there the Lancers rode a 3-1 run to take the game.
“It kind of a big let down that we lost that first one,” Estrada said. “We had so much momentum going and it hit pretty hard to lose that first one when we thought we could have won it. We had it right there in our hands and we didn’t pull it out. The second and third games made everyone come down. It was like we lost that fire.”
After dropping the game, which had been within their grasp, the Leopards continued to fight, but without the same authority as in the first game. The next two games were nothing new, a sort of déjà vu of prior games against the Lancers.
“It was one streak there in the second game where we got down. We don’t play well when we’re down, that’s been hard for us all year,” Coberly said. “If we would’ve had the fire we did the first game, maybe things would have been a little bit different. But I wasn’t displeased with how we played.”
After hitting .405 as a team in game one, the Leopards dropped down to .063 and .261 in games two and three, respectively.
On the other side of the net, the Lancers picked up their game from a .362 hitting percentage in the first game to .500 and .586 in the second and third.
For the third time this season, the Leopards were defeated by CBU, the No. 1 team in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
“During good portions of the match, they played as well as they had all season,” Paulson said. “It was good to end the season playing at that level against a team that talented.”
Spearheading the Leopards’ attack was sophomore middle blocker Matt Cornell, who had 14 kills in the match.
Estrada also posted a strong performance with 10 kills and a team-high .571 hitting percentage. Junior outside hitter Elliot Naito chipped in nine kills.
Making wise offensive choices was junior setter Dave Doxey, who accumulated 32 set assists in the match.
CBU (19-3) had three players record double digits in kills. Six-foot-10 junior opposite Shaun Dyk powered the Lancers with 21 kills and a .704 hitting percentage.
The Leopards’ season ended with a positive outlook on the season to come. With only two seniors graduating, ULV will return a strong core of players in 2005. Coberly hopes next year the team will achieve the goal it could not achieve this season.
“We got a lot of the bad stuff out of the way this year,” Estrada said. “Next year we’re not starting from scratch. We have a good bunch of guys, we all know each other and how to play with each other, so it looks pretty good for next year.”