In the second game of a doubleheader and third game of the weekend, the Leopards beat Pacific Lutheran, 3-1, Saturday at Frantz Athletic Court to close out the La Verne Invitational tournament.
“We like to talk a lot about falling back on our training and making sure that when we’re mentally tired, we’re physically tired, we go back to basics, get back to fundamentals, make sure we’re doing the little things right,” graduate assistant coach Randi Taylor-Toomay said. “There was a lot of reminding of discipline, getting to the right spots, making sure we were doing our moves right so that the mental and physical fatigue felt less because we at least were putting ourselves in better position.”
Freshman outside hitter Lauren Gott started things off with a kill to get the Leopards on the board to control play early on.
Some uncharacteristic mistakes let Pacific Lutheran get back in the game and the Lutes eventually took a 15-14 lead.
Sophomore outside hitter Mya Ray got the kill to tie it back up and then an attack error by Pacific Lutheran after an impressive diving dig by junior libero Madison Smith gave the Leopards the lead again.
Gott would pick up another pair of kills as the Leopards made it 23-19, but Pacific Lutheran did not give up and made it 24-23. A service error by Pacific Lutheran gave the Leopards a first set victory.
Set two gave the Leopards some trouble as they fell behind early and never held a lead throughout the set. Ray got a kill to tie the game at 4-4, but that would be the last time the Leopards would be in position to take the lead.
The rest of the set was all Pacific Lutheran as they went on to win the set, 25-17.
Looking to bounce, the Leopards started off strong in set three and took a 11-7 lead after a kill by graduate student right side hitter Ayana Mier.
Pacific Lutheran responded and stormed back for five straight points to take a 12-11 lead. A service error by Pacific Lutheran and a kill by Ray helped the Leopards regain the lead. Ray committed an attacking error to tie the game back up, but Gott would then get a kill to give the Leopards a 14-13 lead, and the Leopards would not look back from there.
The Leopards controlled play from there and an attack error by Pacific Lutheran sealed the deal in set three, giving the Leopards a 25-18 set win and a 2-1 lead in the game.
Set four went down to the wire and was tied at many points of the set. Pacific Lutheran took an early lead but never had a lead greater than two points, which then disappeared when Ray and Mier teamed up for a block to pull within one.
After the block, the next five points that the Leopards would get would be from kills by Ray. She went off in the fourth set, tallying 11 kills. She finished with 26 kills for the game.
“I think we really just broke down our fundamentals and kind of just communicated more and didn’t get into many ruts and try to keep the percentage of errors down,” Ray said.
The Lutes would rally back and tie the game at 13-13 and again at 15-15, but then senior outside hitter Noelani Soma got a block and then finished the play with a kill to give the Leopards the 16-15 lead. The Leopards would get some separation after a service ace by freshman outside hitter CC Flaherty made it 18-15.
Three straight points by Pacific Lutheran tied the game at 23-23 and forced the Leopards to take a timeout. Ray got the kill to take the lead and then Gott ended the game with a kill to secure a 3-1 victory.
“Just staying strong mentally even though we’re tired physically, that was the main thing,” Soma said.
Along with Ray, other key players were Gott and Mier. Gott tallied 15 kills and a block, and Mier tallied nine kills and two blocks.
“Honestly, we really stuck together as a team and really relied on our training,” Mier said.
The Leopards finished the La Verne Invitational a perfect 3-0 with a 3-1 win against UC Santa Cruz and a 3-2 win over Whitworth.
The Leopards improve to 6-0 on the season and will participate in the Cal Lutheran Fornia Invitational this weekend where they will play UC Santa Cruz at 10 a.m. Friday, St. Thomas at 1 p.m. Friday and Texas Lutheran at 7 p.m. Saturday. All games will be played at Cal Lutheran.
The Leopards were also ranked 24th in the nation in the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Division III Women’s Volleyball Top 25 poll on Tuesday.
Jack Janes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.