Leopards reach NCAA volleyball tourney

Hal Hargrave
Staff Writer

The women’s volleyball team’s season came to an abrupt end Friday with a loss to No. 21 Trinity Tigers, 3-0, in the first round of the NCAA West Regional Tournament at Gilbert Sports Arena.

A matchup between two nationally recognized teams was a lopsided win for the Tigers that ended La Verne’s season and put the Leopards to 20-7 overall on the season.

The Leopards kept a positive attitude, even after losing its final three regular season games, when they got the regional bid Nov. 10.

“I saw a lot of power from our girls tonight both mentally and physically,” head coach Jenna Panatier said. “I think moving forward into next year one of the things that will benefit us most will be continuing to develop that power with our veteran leadership.”

In the first set, the Leopards matched the Tigers point for point, proving they could play with the No. 21 nationally ranked team up until it was 8-7.

The Tigers then went on a four-point run to take a three-point lead, 11-8, behind the dominant hitting of senior outside hitter Maggie Emodi.

Emodi led the way for the Tigers with 16 kills.

The Leopards put up a tough fight in the middle of the first set coming within one point, 15-14, but the Tigers took control from there and were up by as many as five points on five different occasions.

Trinity went on to win the set, 25-20.

Leopards junior outside hitter Brittany Yaxley helped keep the set close with five kills in the frame and finished the match with a team high of 16 kills and nine digs.

“It’s the little things that we work on that make the big things better, those of the things that we work on in practice and the things that we will continue to work on into next year,” Yaxley said.

An aspect of the game that the La Verne has preached upon down the stretch in the second half of the season is to focus on the first five points of each set.

The Leopards did that in the second set coming out to a 6-1 lead, four of those points coming from the strong hitting of Yaxley.

Sophomore setter Tiffany Mancuso ended with 26 assists.

The Tigers fought back into the second set behind the power hitting of Emodi and senior middle blocker Erin Cusenbary.

The Leopards could not find an offensive rhythm and fell short, losing the set, 25-20.

In the third set, the Tigers came out to a 13-6 lead.

Errors continued to hurt the Leopards and prevented them from mounting a comeback in the third set.

The Tigers led by as many as nine points on two different occasions during the middle of the third set.

La Verne could not find the momentum they were looking for and Trinity went on to win the set, 25-15.

Sophomore middle blocker Kelsi Robinson finished with six kills and six digs.

“I feel so thankful to be a part of a team that bounced back from the season that we had last year,” Yaxley said. “We were here at regionals my freshman year and it feels good to already be back just two years later. Moving forward we can use our experience to minimize our errors and we can use this emotional feeling a loss to drive us to be better and fire us up for next year because we want to go even farther next year.”

Yaxley was named an American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III Third Team All-American and Robinson was an Honorable Mention Wednesday.

Junior outside hitter Ashlyn Cross tied a game-high with senior libero Anna Suarez with 15 digs on the match.

Suarez ended a prolific four year career as a Leopard with over 1,250 digs and two NCAA West Regional appearances.

“I am so blessed that I chose La Verne and that I was here for four years and was recruited by Jenna,” Suarez said. “It was a blessing to be here and I couldn’t of asked to be on the better team or around a better group of girls coming from 8-23 last year to being what we were this year was an absolute honor to be a part of.”

Experience will be the key to the Leopard’s success met share with many underclassmen returning.

“The best part about the whole growing process from year to year is the girls that I coach,” Panatier said. “None of this has anything to do with me. I sit on the sidelines and call timeouts, I sub and players, but they are the ones who do all the work and that everybody should be proud of.”

Hal Hargrave can be reached at hallett.hargrave@laverne.edu.

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