The Leopards kicked off Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play with a 3-0 sweep of Cal Lutheran Friday night at Frantz Athletic Court.
“We’re just talking a lot about playing to our standard and, like, just doing our thing,” head coach Jeff Hendershot said. “Sometimes playing that undefeated stuff can get in your head and we’re just like, one game at a time, just do what we got to do.”
The Leopards got off to a slow start in set one, surrendering the first three points to the Regals. Freshman outside hitter Lauren Gott landed a kill to tie the game at 8-8, then the Leopards went on a run from there.
Three straight service aces from junior libero Madison Smith and a ball handling error on the next serve gave the Leopards some separation with a 16-10 lead. Then it was the Regals’ turn to go on a run of their own to climb back to within two points.
It would remain close until the score hit 21-19 Leopards, then three straight kills by graduate student middle back and right side hitter Ayana Mier and a service ace by junior outside hitter Noelani Soma closed out the set.
Set two started more in the Leopards’ favor, with freshman middle back Zacky Coaston and Gott each tacking on a pair of kills to give the Leopards an early 8-3 lead. The Regals called a timeout, but the Leopards kept pouring it on and their lead jumped to 12-5.
The Leopards seemed to be running away with the set, as they took a commanding 24-13 lead and just needed one point to clinch the set. Then things got interesting and the Regals stormed back with six straight points. Despite a late set rally, Soma finally got the kill to end the set and gave the Leopards a 2-0 set lead going into the third set.
“I think today was just getting the nerves out with our first conference game,” Gott said.
The Regals had an early 3-2 lead in set three, then the Leopards took control and never looked back. The freshman duo of Coaston and Gott combined for seven kills in the final set and, since the 3-2 Regal lead, the Leopards only allowed the Regals to score back-to-back points just twice the rest of the set.
“We’re really just playing like our good, consistent volleyball and it’s just us having really good practices and really holding down the techniques helps us win these games,” Ray said.
The Leopards cruised to a 25-14 set victory to complete the sweep. The kill leaders for the Leopards were Gott with 12, Mier and Ray with 10 and Coaston and Soma with eight.
The following night, the Leopards traveled to Whittier and won, 3-2, and then swept Caltech Tuesday night to improve to a perfect 12-0 and 3-0 in conference.
The Leopards were also ranked 21st in the nation on the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll on Tuesday.
“I think that we can really improve on just staying mentally sharp throughout the whole match instead of having these dips that we’ve been having,” Mier said.
The Leopards’ next slate of games will be at 7 p.m. Friday at Chapman, 4 p.m. Saturday against Occidental at home, and 7 p.m. Tuesday at the No. 5 nationally ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
Jack Janes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.