The Leopards’ women’s volleyball team secured an opening day victory Friday with a 3-0 sweep of the Southwestern Pirates, who are led by legendary former La Verne coach Don Flora.
“It’s awesome and, you know, he almost gave me my first job here at La Verne, so tons of respect for him and what he’s done,” La Verne head coach Jeff Hendershot said. “A lot of what we’re trying to do is just trying to replicate what he did when he was here, so it’s really fun to compete against him.”
Flora was the head volleyball coach at La Verne from 2000 to 2008, winning the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles in all nine seasons and brought home the 2001 NCAA Division III national championship.
Although it was a sweep, every set was tightly contested and the Leopards had to fight their way to a win.
The game started with an ace by freshman setter Malia Capistrano, and she would pick up another as the Leopards quickly jumped out to a 4-1 lead. Sophomore outside hitter Mya Ray’s kill to make it 12-7 forced Southwestern to take a timeout.
Southwestern’s timeout was effective and they came back to tie it up at 18-18 and again at 22-22. Back-to-back kills by junior outside hitter Noelani Soma made it 24-22 to set up Ray for the set-clinching kill.
“Before the game, our coach wanted us to go out there and just overload on them, so just start off swinging as hard as we could,” Soma said.
Set two started in Southwestern’s favor and was back and forth until the score hit 8-8 and Southwestern began to gain some separation from the Leopards. Staring at a 14-9 deficit, the Leopards stormed back for seven straight points, four of them being kills from Soma to take a 16-14 lead.
After trading blows for a bit, the Leopards found their groove again and won set two, 25-19, with freshman outside hitter Lauren Gott getting kills for the final two points of the set. Gott would go on to finish an impressive debut with eight kills, an ace and eight digs.
“I was nervous but really excited,” Gott said about her first collegiate game. “I just wanted to get on the court and after I touched the ball, the nerves go away.”
With a 2-0 set lead, the Leopards jumped out to an early 6-3 lead after multiple attacking errors committed by Southwestern. Three straight Southwestern points tied it up and the Pirates quickly took a 9-7 lead.
Once again, both teams went back and forth and found themselves tied at 12-12. Ray and graduate student middle blocker Ayana Mier teamed up for a block to take the lead, and the Leopards never looked back.
The Leopards took advantage of attacking errors by Southwestern and ran away with the game. Gott put the finishing touches on the game with a kill to seal the deal and the Leopards won the set 25-18 to complete the sweep on opening day.
“I think it’s really important because it kind of sets the tone for the rest of the year,” Ray said.
Ray finished the game with eight kills, an ace and 10 digs. Soma finished with a whopping 14 kills, seven of them coming in the second set alone.
The Leopards wrapped up the Pacific Coast Classic Tournament a perfect 3-0 with victories against Carthage and St. Catherine on Saturday. Ray was named on the Pacific Coast Classic All Tournament Team with 38 total kills on the weekend.
The Leopard Invitational is this weekend and the Leopards will play UC Santa Cruz at 7 p.m. Friday, Whitworth at 4 p.m. Saturday and Pacific Lutheran at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. All games will be at Frantz Athletic Court.
Jack Janes can be reached at email@example.com.