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Volleyball falls to No. 5 Athenas in semifinal

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Jacob Barriga
Staff Writer

The ball sailed over the back line of the Leopards, giving the ULV women’s volleyball team the win in the opening set of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Semifinals. The Leopards looked to take control of the match in the second set, but it was not meant to be, as the Athenas rallied back from the deficit to win 3-1.

On Nov. 7, the women’s volleyball team faced the No. 1 seed – and fifth ranked team in the nation – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at Roberts Pavilion to open the women’s volleyball post season.

Coming into the match, La Verne had yet to take a win over the Athenas, losing both of their regular season matches, 3-1 and 3-2.

The Leopards came out strong in the first set, going blow for blow with the nationally ranked Stags. Claremont took the biggest lead early in the set when they held a 6-3 advantage over the Leopards.

However, the Leopards dug deep and held strong as break-out freshman middle blocker Ayana Mier took charge, leading all players at the end of the first set with seven kills. The Leopards pulled ahead late in the set 19-18 before going back and forth until a violation by the Stags gave the Leopards the first set victory 26-24.

Although, Claremont recovered in the second set, showing their dominance as nationally ranked team. But after being down 15-9, the Leopards scored on three straight possessions to cut the lead to three. However, the Claremont attack became too much to handle as the Stags scored five straight times to take a commanding 20-12 lead. Ultimately, Claremont dominated in the second set 25-15 to draw even at 1-1 before halftime.

Coming out of the break, the Leopards looked strong as they took a lead mid-way through the third set 13-11. But Claremont did not panic as they went on a huge scoring run lead by sophomore middle blocker Melanie Moore. Then several Leopard mistakes put the Leopards at a 23-16 deficit in which they could not recover. The Leopards dropped the third set 25-17.

Up 2-1 now, Claremont proved why it is one of the top teams in the nation. The Stags jumped out to an 8-0 lead over the Leopards to open the fourth set. The Leopards could not recover as they would only pull within nine points before being put away 25-13. Claremont advanced to the SCIAC finals on Sunday, handily defeating Chapman in a sweep to become the SCIAC champions, as the Leopards’ season would ultimately come to an end.

The women’s volleyball team had a great season that included two All-SCIAC players. Senior setter Madison Maynes and sophomore outside hitter Haley Celaya lead the Leopards this season, earning First Team honors for the team.

Head Coach Jeff Hendershot felt good about the season overall.

“We made it to the conference tournament which was one of our goals this year, and the seniors stepped up and played well for us all year,” Hendershot said.

He said he is excited for the off-season and improving as a team heading into next season.

Mier, who led all Leopards in kills in the final match of the year, says she was mentally prepared for the night.

“My mindset was just to go for everything because we had nothing to lose so might as well go for it,” Mier said.

Mier also said she was impressed by the team’s effort all year as they overcame many challenges.

“I think we grew a lot throughout the year considering we had nine freshmen, we did very well as all the odds were stacked against us,” Mier said.

Mier led the team in kills this season with 276.

All-SCIAC Celaya was also happy with the season.

“We are really young and we just need more experience,” Celaya said. “We have great energy when we get on the court but we still have more to improve to get to where we want to be next year.”

Junior outside hitter Pi’ikea Clemens is looking toward bigger goals next year.

“Our goal next year is to win the SCIAC tournament, we learned a lot this season with ten new girls, and now we have to take that and work better as a team heading into next year,” said Clemens.

Clemens and Celaya had 261 and 240 kills on the season respectively.

The Leopards finished with 15-13 record on the year and a fourth place finish in the SCIAC tournament.

Jacob Barriga can be reached at jacob.barriga@laverne.edu.

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