A strong performance by junior outside hitter Nalani Young propelled the Leopards to a 3-1 win against Chapman on Tuesday at the Frantz Athletic Court.
“We are in the second half of conference now and I think we really have to show what La Verne is all about,” Young said.
Young had 17 kills, four service aces and two blocks in the game.
The Leopards dominated set one, where they took a 5-0 lead and never looked back. Despite the Panthers’ efforts to stop the bleeding, the Leopards went on to score nine straight points in one stretch and the Panthers only mustered consecutive points once in the set. The Leopards would go on to take set one, 25-10.
The Panthers turned it around for set two and took advantage of some of the Leopards’ mistakes. La Verne led 13-8 but after six straight points by the Panthers, Chapman was in the lead. A timeout for the Leopards helped them settle down and take a 19-16 lead, but the Panthers clawed back and won a nail-biter, 25-23, after rallying for three straight points to end it.
The Leopards got back on track in the third set and never trailed. With the help of four kills each from senior middle back Kari Esseff and freshman middle back Olivia Rueckert, the Leopards maintained control of the whole set. It would finish with six consecutive points by the Leopards, including back-to-back aces by Young. The Leopards won set three, 25-13. Esseff went on to have 12 kills in the game and Rueckert had 13 kills.
Rueckert has been solid all season for the Leopards as a freshman and her mindset in practice is paying off.
“Just that competitive drive that Jeff (Hendershot, head coach) has been talking about a lot and he showed us a Kobe Bryant video earlier which we should have incorporated in that second set and just finish the job,” Rueckert said.
In set four, the Leopards jumped out to an early 5-1 lead and, like set three, they never trailed. The Panthers fought hard and made it close as the largest deficit in the set was five points. Freshman outside hitter Mya Ray had four kills and a service ace in the fourth set, including the set and match-clinching kill. The Leopards won, 25-21, and clinched the match victory, 3-1. Ray ended the game with 14 kills and two service aces.
“We just got out of our heads and just started playing more loose and comfortable,” Ray said.
The Leopards also traveled to Eagle Rock and took down the Occidental Tigers, 3-1, on Oct. 7.
These victories put the Leopards on a three-game winning streak but it is still business as usual for the team.
“We are not too high on it because we are just trying to take it one game at a time,” Hendershot said.
The next match for the Leopards is at 7 p.m. Friday against Caltech in the Braun Athletic Center in Pasadena. They will then continue on the road to matchup against Pomona-Pitzer at 2 p.m. Saturday, then on to the next with Whittier on Oct. 18 before they head home to face Occidental again Oct. 21.
The Leopards are now 12-6 overall and 6-3 in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play.
Jack Janes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.