The Leopards women’s volleyball team pulled off an incredible comeback in set five to win a senior night thriller, 3-2, against Cal Lutheran Oct. 28 at Frantz Athletic Court.
“Really good to see them finish off their career, with all of the stuff they have been through, on a really amazing high note,” head coach Jeff Hendershot said. “They are getting us back to where we need to be, you know, in the conversation nationally for volleyball.”
Before the game started, the seniors of both teams were honored. Leopards players handed flowers to the seniors on the Regals and then the Leopard seniors were brought out on the court, one by one, as they were escorted with their family.
Six Leopard seniors were honored – Rylee Callen, Jasmine Chandler, Kari Essef, Emily Heldenbrand, Ayana Mier and Jordyn Patton.
The announcer read what each senior would be doing next in their lives and a message that the players wrote for their families, teammates and coaches.
“I am very grateful for my last two years playing here,” senior middle back Kari Esseff said. “I had an amazing ride and I won’t forget the memories that I made here and all of my teammates.”
The tents were packed for senior night as a large La Verne crowd showed up to support the seniors in their final home game.
The La Verne baseball team even showed up with their bodies painted so they all spelled ‘Leos Country Lets Ride’ as a play on Denver Broncos quarterback Russel Wilson’s viral video of him saying ‘Broncos country lets ride.’
Set one was back and forth with a lot of lead changes until late in the set. Once it got to a 16-16 tie, the Regals jumped ahead with three straight points to make it 19-16 and the Leopards could not recover from it. The Regals would go on to win set one, 25-19.
Set two was a completely different story. It was a close set until the Leopards put up seven straight points to make it 14-6 and they did not look back. The Leopards continued to dominate the set and went on to win, 25-12, to tie the game.
The third set was a wild one that had the Regals taking an early 10-3 lead but the Leopards scratched and clawed their way back to being only down by one at 15-14. Both teams traded points until the Leopards tied it at 20-20 after a big kill by freshman outside hitter and right side hitter Mya Ray.
Ray finished the game with 24 kills, one service ace and two blocks. The Regals however would go on to outscore the Leopards, 5-1, to the finish line. Cal Lutheran took set three, 25-21, as well as a 2-1 set lead in the game.
The fourth set started out as a battle because both teams kept the score within a few points until it was a 14-13 Leopards’ lead. The Leopards then scored seven straight points to make it 21-13. The Regals could only muster a couple more points before the Leopards finished the set and won, 25-15.
With the game then tied 2-2, the final set would prove to be a memorable one. The Leopards had a disastrous start, quickly falling behind 7-1 when the final set was only first to 15. The Leopards tried to fight back but the Regals scored back to back points and took a commanding 12-5 lead.
Just when it looked like the game was over for the Leopards, they stormed back, scoring 10 unanswered points to win the set, 15-12, and the match, 3-2.
Those 10 unanswered points included five kills from Ray and three service aces from sophomore libero Madison Smith, who had six service aces in the game.
“The competitive drive and determination just continued to build up as Maddy was on fire with her serves,” Ray said. “One of the main goals was to keep Maddy back there serving to do some more damage.”
After the game, an emotional players stayed on the court and shared hugs on the seniors’ final home game at the tents.
“It’s been the best experience like I wouldn’t have it any other way. Yeah, COVID was a damper but, honestly, ending on this note is all I could ever ask for,” Mier said.
The next day the Leopards went to No. 1 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps for the regular season finale and lost, 3-0.
The Leopards finished the regular season 17-9 overall and 11-5 in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play.
Jack Janes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.