Bloomington, Ill., the site of this year’s national championships, seemed like the final destination for the La Verne women’s volleyball team, after taking a 2-1 lead heading into their regional finals match against the Puget Sound Loggers.
But the Leopards could not hold on to the lead and lost to the Loggers 3-2 in a heartbreaking match on Nov. 10.
The Leopards ended their 2007 season with a record of 27-7.
“It’s painful. We were the better team,” head coach Don Flora said.
The Loggers brought the match even, 2-2.
The fifth game started with the Loggers getting on the board first after a kill by middle blocker Monica Groves.
Junior outside hitter Brianna Gonzales brought the score 1-1 with a kill of her own.
The Leopards saw their tie move into a deficit against UPS, after the Loggers scored three unanswered points to bring the lead to 4-1.
The Leopards brought the game within one after a thrilling kill from senior middle blocker Tiona Hobson.
However, that was the closest the Leopards came to UPS. They were not able to play catch up with the Loggers, losing the final game after a kill by sophomore middle blocker Kalli Kamphaus.
Puget Sound advanced to the NCAA national championships to be held in Bloomington.
Flora, who concluded his 10th season, commended the Loggers on how well they played during the match.
“I really feel like they played one of their better games,” Flora said.
“There were a lot of plays we didn’t finish,” Flora said. “We didn’t get into our ‘A’ game.”
Flora was glad that the Leopards’ serves were better than the night before.
However, Flora was not pleased in the performance of the Leopards until late in the match.
“I think our passing was not as crisp until late,” Flora said.
The loss comes after a come-from-behind win against the West Regional Championship host Cal State East Bay.
The Leopards and Pioneers split their two meetings this season.
“It’s exciting because our team has been working a lot,” Hobson said after the game.
The Leopards started the match a little sluggish against the Pioneers, as a 16-7 deficit grew after a kill by East Bay’s Kelly Paris.
The Leopards rallied back the first game behind Hobson, who had a kill and a block to bring the score closer, 27-23.
Gonzales helped the team bring the margin even closer to 29-26 after scoring off a couple of kills.
But the Leopards were not able to finish, losing the first game, 30-26.
The Leopards started strong in the second game behind Gonzales, leading 12-7 after another kill. Gonzales led the game with a match-high 28 kills.
East Bay rallied back to 25-20 off Pioneers junior outside hitter Jackie Randolph, who ended the match with 24 kills.
The Leopards eventually won the match after sophomore blocker Ashley Morgado spiked the ball to end the game, 30-23.
The Pioneers, however, came back strong in the third game.
Senior Whitney Kranz got the Leopards back to 10-10 with an ace.
The game was kept close but the Pioneers pulled it out in the end behind Randolph, winning 34-32.
But it was the Leopards who kept their poise at the start on the fifth game, eventually winning the set 15-13 after a kill by senior middle blocker Jodi Lindsay.
The Leopards were thrilled after winning and never expected anything less.
“I kept saying to them and myself that this is not our last game. I don’t want to go home,” Hobson said after the game.
“We fought and we fought hard,” Gonzales said. “We stayed motivated and felt confident.”
On Saturday, the Leopards started the match with high energy but the Loggers quenched the Leopards fire early on with strong offense to lead the game 17-12.
The Leopards brought the game back close but was not able to get the win, losing the first game 30-28.
But La Verne brought back their energy and returned revitalized in the second and third games, winning the games 34-32 and 30-20, respectively.
During the games, the Leopards were led by their senior captain Hobson and Gonzales who proved to be a force against the Loggers.
Gonzales led the match again with 23 kills while registering 22 digs. Hobson had 17 kills and boosted a hitting percentage of .433 of the night.
The Leopards also received help from Lindsay and sophomore outside hitter Crista Jones. Jones ended the match with 15 kills, while Lindsay added 10.
Leading the match 2-1, the Leopards seemed destined to win. But the Loggers started the fourth game with enough intensity to lead the Leopards 7-2 early in the game. The Leopards came within three behind Kranz who served an ace and registered a kill to bring it to 27-24. The Loggers rallied behind Kamphaus and sophomore setter Lindsey Denman winning the game 30-25.
Kamphaus led the Loggers with 21 kills, while Denman recorded 19 kills.
Rachael Gross also helped the Loggers with 45 digs in the match.
While emotions were still strong after the loss in the championship round, next year’s team looks bright for Flora.
The notable returners for next year’s squad include Gonzales, Jones and Morgado.
To add to the success of the team, Gonzales was honored with SCIAC Player of the Year honors and was an AVCA All-American First Team selection.
Lindsay was also named an AVCA All-American Second Team selection for her play throughout this season.
Flora and the team were not happy about the outcome of the season, but were pleased with their performance all season.
Flora noted that the team won its eighth consecutive Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and finished the season ranked in the national top 10.
“I’m really proud of our girls and they’ve got a lot of heart,” Flora said.
Jonathan Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Receiving an automatic bid into the 2007 NCAA Division III West Region, University of La Verne played against Cal State East Bay Friday night and University of Puget Sound Saturday night. Winning their first game against Cal State, the Leopards went on to play the Loggers, who defeated them, 3-2. ULV ended the season with a 27-7 record.