The Leopards lost a pivotal game Saturday night at Frantz Athletic Court at the hands of Pomona-Pitzer, 3-1.
Before the game, another milestone was honored with graduate student middle back and right side hitter Ayana Mier achieving 1,000 career kills, which ranks sixth in school history.
“It’s really special to me because considering that I lost one year, being able to do this this year is something really special and something that I really never thought that would be able to happen,” Mier said.
Given the nickname “Grandma” by her teammates, Mier has embraced her role as a leader on and off the court as a graduate student.
“I think that was the biggest thing for her, having that fifth year,” head coach Jeff Hendershot said. “She kind of matured into her leadership role and she’s played outside, middle, right side and she’s been really good at all of them.”
The Leopards started off a bit slow and found themselves down, 3-1, but found their rhythm and got to a 7-6 lead. The Leopards controlled play and went on a few different runs of three points to extend their lead to 18-10.
Then it was the Sagehens’ turn to take control, scoring seven of the next eight points and making it a 19-17 game. Both teams continued to battle and, all the sudden, it was a one-point game with the Leopards having a 21-20 lead.
A service ace by junior libero Madison Smith, a couple of errors by the Sagehens and a kill by freshman middle back Zacky Coaston sealed the deal and the Leopards won the opening set, 25-20.
Set two was an even affair, with both teams trading points and being deadlocked at 5-5. The Sagehens rallied for five straight points to make it 10-5 and remained in the lead until toward the end of the set.
Staring at a 24-19 deficit, the Leopards came back to tie it 24-24 thanks to a couple of kills by sophomore outside hitter and right side hitter Mya Ray, a service ace by freshman outside hitter Lauren Gott, an error by the Sagehens and a kill by Mier.
Despite the comeback efforts, the Sagehens got two straight points to end the set at 26-24 and tied the game at 1-1 in sets.
Set three was a tale of timeouts. Pomona-Pitzer jumped to an early 5-2 lead, causing the Leopards to take a timeout to regroup. After surrendering a point, the Leopards scored six straight points to take a 9-7 lead, forcing the Sagehens to call a timeout.
Immediately after the timeout, the Sagehens then scored five straight points of their own making it 12-9 in favor of the Sagehens. The Sagehens continued to add to their lead and the Leopards once again called time out once they were losing, 17-12.
The Leopards then came back to tie the game at 19-19, then fell to a 24-21 deficit. A kill and a service ace by Gott brought the score to 24-23 and the Sagehens called timeout again. After the timeout the Sagehens got a huge block and secured the 25-23 set victory to give them a 2-1 lead.
The final set was another back-and-forth affair, with the Sagehens gaining a 3-0 lead just for the Leopards to answer back with three straight points of their own to tie it. The Sagehens took the lead and never looked back for the remainder of the set.
The Sagehens went on a run of scoring seven out of eight points to take a 15-9 lead to force the Leopards to call timeout.
Four straight attack errors by the Sagehens brought the Leopards within two at 17-15, but the Sagehens responded with a pair of kills. Then Ray tacked on two more kills and Mier with one to make it 20-19 Sagehens.
The Leopards could not hold on though, and dropped the final set, 25-22, and lost the game, 3-1.
“I think we just weren’t emotionally and mentally ready for that game, for whatever reason,” Hendershot said. “We just kind of weren’t in it, couldn’t get any long rallies going, couldn’t get any runs going, our first contacts weren’t great.”
Ray finished the game with 21 kills and 10 digs, Gott finished with 16 kills, 18 digs and two service aces and Mier finished with nine kills, bringing her career total to 1,018.
“Ayana plays a big role on our team because of all her communication and she leads us spiritually, mentally and on the court,” Ray said.
The Leopards travel to Cal Lutheran for a 7 p.m. game Friday and come home to close out the regular season with a 6 p.m. game Saturday against Whittier, which is also senior night.
“Obviously, we’re a little bit disappointed with the outcome,” Gott said. “Pitzer is a good team, but those are the kind of teams that we’re going to see if we want to make it far and we want to play postseason. So I think this team, we have the skill but we need to learn to play together and show up when we need to because we have the ability to.”
The Leopards are now 20-3 overall and 11-3 in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play.
Jack Janes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.