The Leopards continued their winning ways with a 3-0 sweep against the Chapman Panthers Friday night at Frantz Athletic Court.
“We really were focusing on the things that we’ve been working on in practice,” graduate student middle back and right side hitter Ayana Mier said. “We’ve kind of changed a few things around and we applied those during this game and it’s working and it’s showing.”
Before the game started, the team honored junior libero Madison Smith for reaching 1,000 career digs, which places her 10th all time in school history.
“It means a lot to me to be rewarded for this accomplishment and just know that all my hard work has paid off,” Smith said.
Smith has been a staple in the Leopards starting lineup and a constant force on the court the last three years.
“I think we said 10th all time already right now as a junior and we got eight matches left, so really proud of her,” head coach Jeff Hendershot said. “She’s put in the work and she’s worked really hard to get to this point and she’s got a lot of room to grow still.”
Mier started the game off with a kill to give the Leopards the early lead, but it was short lived as the Leopards made uncharacteristic mistakes to keep the game close early on. It was not until their sixth point of the set that the Panthers earned a point when sophomore outside hitter Olivia Sampson got the kill to tie the game at 6-6.
Both teams traded points from there and it remained at most a two-point game until the Leopards found their footing and rattled off seven straight points to make it 21-16. Chapman got one back but then the Leopards responded with four straight points to close out the first set, 25-17.
Sophomore outside hitter and right side hitter Mya Ray logged in a whopping nine kills in the first set alone.
Set two had a similar start with a kill by Mier to start then Chapman took the lead and both teams went back and forth. This time though, the set went down to the wire.
The Leopards were down, 6-3, then Ray got a service ace. Then two kills from freshman middle back Zacky Coaston and senior outside hitter Noelani Soma tied it. Then it was 10-7 Panthers and the Leopards came right back again and tied it at 11-11. This pattern of each team going on a run of a few points lasted until the very end.
With a 20-19 lead, the Leopards jumped to a 23-19 lead with a couple of mistakes from the Panthers and a kill from Mier. The Panthers responded with a pair of kills by Sampson but then a kill by freshman outside hitter Lauren Gott and an attack error by the Panthers ended the set, 25-21, in the Leopards’ favor.
The Leopards started the third set in a 7-5 hole with all five of their points being kills by Ray. Then the Leopards took control of the game and scored seven unanswered points to jump to a 12-7 lead. The Leopards defense tightened up and came up with a few huge blocks to prevent the Panthers from going on runs of multiple unanswered points.
At a 22-17 Leopard lead, Gott knocked down a kill, Chapman committed an attack error and Mier got a kill to put the finishing touches to end the set 25-17 and complete the sweep.
Ray finished the match with an absurd 21 kills and Smith ended with 19 digs.
“Chapman was really just giving us our line shots so I took advantage and swung line most of the swings and just swung high hand and jumped hard,” Ray said.
The following day, the Leopards swept Caltech in their own court and then pulled off an incredible upset on Tuesday night at home when they took down the No. 4 nationally ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athenas, 3-1.
The Leopards are on the road for a 7 p.m. game Friday at Redlands and then will come back home Saturday for a 4 p.m. match in hopes of revenge against Pomona-Pitzer.
The Leopards are now 19-2 overall and are 10-2 in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play.
Jack Janes can be reached at email@example.com.