Although it was a tough weekend for the women’s volleyball team, things started looking up Monday after the team found out it received a regional bid to play No. 21 Trinity Texas in the NCAA Division III tournament.
The last time La Verne met Trinity in 2012, the Leopards came out victorious, 3-2.
La Verne will make its 25th NCAA Tournament appearance. The Leopards are tied for fifth most appearances in Division III.
The regional bid allows the NCAA to invite teams to the postseason tournament by way of a selection committee.
The committee is compiled of coaches and NCAA officials, who agree upon both league winners and non-league winners that deserve to get the invite to the tournament.
“Out of our last 14 games we have only lost four, so it’s not like we are some terrible team. We are actually still a great team. We just need to have the confidence to finish this out,” head coach Jenna Panatier said.
A hard-fought match by the No. 25 nationally ranked women’s volleyball team ended in a tough 3-0 loss in the first round of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament Nov. 6 against No. 18 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athenas at Cal Lutheran’s Gilbert Arena.
The loss puts the Leopards at 20-6 overall on the season and 12-4 in SCIAC play.
With 225 fans in attendance, anticipation was heavy. La Verne and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps were ready to square off once again.
The Leopards took down the Athenas Oct. 17 at Linde Activities Center, 3-2.
The team battled long and hard after being down 2-0 and ultimately took the Athenas to five games and won.
Just like the previous time the two teams faced, CMS came out to a strong start the first set going up 11-5 to start the set.
The Leopards then had two straight points from sophomore middle blocker Kelsi Robinson and junior outside hitter Ashlyn Cross.
CMS responded back with eight straight points to take an 11 point lead.
La Verne managed to make a 5-0 run behind the hitting of junior outside hitter Brittany Yaxley.
The Athenas were still ahead, 20-13.
Yaxley ended with 13 kills and eight digs on the match.
She was named to the 2014 First Team All-SCIAC. Yaxley is ranked 19th and eighth nationally in kills per set and points per set, respectively, this season.
Although the Leopards thought they had control, it was lost and the Athenas took control of the first set, 25-16.
La Verne came out in the second set and had a 8-7 lead, before the Athenas went on a 4-0 run to go up, 11-8.
Blocking from sophomore middle blocker Cassie Thompson kept the Leopards momentum going.
The Leopards managed to go on a late 6-0 run to tie things up in the second set at 24.
The Athenas took the next two points and won the second set, 26-24.
“It’s important for us to continue to emphasize how important blocking is,” Thompson said.
“Not only do we get points off of our block but it helps out our back row with court vision, slowing down the pace of the game and even if the other team hits around our block our back row knows where they need to be and this will help gear up our offense moving forward.” she said.
Thompson led the Leopards with seven blocks in the game.
Blocking was the Leopards’ strong suit with 21 assisted blocks. They out-blocked CMS as a team 12-5.
The third set started fast with a 7-0 run by the Athenas.
The Leopards fought back to get within one, 11-10, by four attack errors from the Athenas.
The Athenas then pulled away 19-15 and that was as close as the Leopards would get for the rest of the match.
CMS went on to win the third set and sweep, 25-18.
Cross ended the match with five kills and 11 digs.
“Our spirit after the game was really low just because of the fact that it was a sweep,” Yaxley said.
“It was the fact that we did not play how we know we can play. It is a different story if a team beats you simply because they’re better than you, CMS is obviously an amazing team, but we just did not play La Verne volleyball as we all know it.” she said.
Senior libero Anna Suarez had a team-high of 12 digs.
Senior setter Kailey Faust and sophomore setter Tiffany Mancuso shared a team-high of 15 assist a piece.
“I believe that is why we are so devastated is because we know we had more to give and with not knowing if that was our last game or not it made it tough to swallow,” Yaxley said.
“But, the message from Jenna was ‘move on and let’s hope that we get an NCAA bid, don’t hold onto it and let it go so we can focus on the task ahead.” she said.
Robinson also earned her first All-SCIAC team honors.
She is ranked fourth in the nation in blocks per set at 1.37 and has eight matches with five or more total blocks.
Robinson also contributes to offense with 2.55 kills per set on .301 hitting.
“We can improve by bringing all of our energy to the very first point of the game,” Robinson said.
“We have runs where we are super energetic and we give it our all, but then we have points where we can’t wait for the next ball to come because we are stagnant. But, as long as we keep up our energy and make sure that we dominate on each and every play, then we are going to be fine.” she said.
The team is ranked in the Top 30 in the nation in assists, blocks, kills and hitting per set.
The Leopards will face Trinity Texas at 5 p.m. Friday at Gilbert Arena in Thousand Oaks for the first round of the NCAA Division III Championship.
Hal Hargrave can be reached at email@example.com.