The women’s volleyball team hosted three teams for the second straight weekend for the Whittier Invitational last weekend. The Leopards, who co-hosted the tournament with Whittier, took on Pacific Lutheran, UC Santa Cruz and Puget Sound in their final weekend before conference play.
The Leopards went 1-2 in the tournament, including a hard fought 3-2 loss to Division II UC Santa Cruz on Sept. 10.
The Leopards came out strong against the Banana Slugs, possibly amped from their defeat of Pacific Lutheran earlier in the day. In the first set the Leopards leaped out to an 8-0 advantage led by junior middle blocker Ayana Mier and freshman outside hitter Ha’ani Untalan, both of whom had two kills in the early going.
The Leopards did not let UC Santa Cruz back into the game as the Banana Slugs did not come closer than five points during the first set and the Leopards took the opening set, 25-17.
“Our energy is so good and even on the bench it’s so much fun, especially since we are competitive. We want to stay in the game by cheering all the time,” Mier said.
The Leopards kept the pressure on in the second set, trading points up to a 13-13 tie in the middle of the set. However, three mistakes by Santa Cruz gave the Leopards an advantage heading into the latter half of the set.
The Leopards capitalized on the mistakes and took the small lead into a 25-19 victory in the second set to take a huge advantage in the match.
The Leopards, looking for the sweep to improve their winning streak to five games, continued to put the Banana Slugs on the ropes.
After three kills from the Leopards offense and more errors from the Santa Cruz defense, the Leopards jumped out to a 11-6 lead in the pivotal third set.
But then the Leopards struggled to put the Banana Slugs away, as the Leopards committed seven errors down the stretch and the Slugs woke up to close the gap, tying the set at 20-20.
The Slugs outlasted the Leopards with a final kill by Santa Cruz senior outside hitter Claire Okerlund to steal the third set, 25-23.
The Leopards did not recover, suffering a 25-17 loss in the fourth set and a 15-11 loss in the fifth set to give the win to UC Santa Cruz.
The Leopards went on to drop the final match of the weekend against Puget Sound on Saturday to wrap up the weekend invitational.
Head coach Jeff Hendershot said his team fought hard and is ready to get into Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play with their competitive nature.
“UC Santa Cruz is a really good team, and we just have to limit some errors and keep the competitive fire,” Hendershot said. “We’re competitive and the conference is a dog fight. I love our energy and our culture, and it will go a long way.”
Junior setter Emily Heldenbrand said the unification of this team is a big difference going into the regular season.
“We all want to work toward the same goal, and we have an opportunity to go farther than we ever have,” Heldenbrand said.
Junior middle blocker Kari Esseff said they have the potential to put the conference on notice.
“The more we learn to come together the more we’ll become a team to look out for in the conference. I am excited for what we can accomplish this year,” Esseff said.
Jacob Barriga can be reached at email@example.com.