Volleyball Goes Back to the Basics in Texas

After a successful 2013 season, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps volleyball team (9-3, 0-0 SCIAC) strives to continue their momentum and make another appearance at the NCAA tournament. Last season the Athenas broke a 16-year NCAA appearance drought and set a school record with 25 wins before falling to Colorado College in the second round of the tournament. 

This year, the team has committed itself to perfecting the basics before thinking about another appearance.

The Athenas were able to put this philosophy to the test during their four-game trip to San Antonio, Texas, last weekend to compete in the Trinity Falls Classic. The Athenas went 3-1 over the course of their trip with wins over Texas Lutheran University (3-2), Mary Hardin-Baylor University (3-1) and Southwestern University (3-1), and a defeat at the hands of No. 19 Trinity University (0-3).

The team kicked off the tournament with a tilt against Texas Lutheran in which the two teams went the distance in a hard-fought match. Ultimately, CMS was able to pull out the victory by defeating Texas Lutheran 15-10 in the final set. After dropping their second game of the day to Trinity, CMS earned two 3-1 victories over Mary-Hardin Baylor and Southwestern.

Throughout the tournament, the team received meaningful plays from both new and returning players. Two key returners for the team this year include hitters in opposite hitter Audrey Breitwieser CM ’16 and outside hitter Nicole Kerkhof CM ’17, who led the team in kills last year with 482, good for fourth-best in SCIAC. Over the weekend, Breitwieser led the front attack with an average of 13.5 kills in the team’s four matches. Kerkhof, despite shoulder injuries, still put down an impressive 13 and 17 kills in the team's final two matches.

After carrying only 10 players on the roster last year, coach Kurt Vlasich decided to increase the team’s depth this year by adding eight new players from the first-year class. Two standouts include Shelbi Stein CM ’18, who had 14 and eight kills in the first two matches, and Margaux Arntson CM ’18, who averaged 10 kills over four matches.

“The biggest thing for me, and the thing that’s helped me be successful early on, is the breakdown of each individual skill that we do in practice,” Arntson said. “Every move and skill has a purpose.”

But behind the glorious hitters, CMS prides itself on its defensive strength. On the backbone of this talented team is captain and libero Megan Coleman CM ’15, who averaged just over 25 digs in the tournament last weekend.

Defensive specialists and setters often do not get much credit for their efforts, but for Coleman it is more about the team than herself.

“I think about what I can do to help my team, and I know that in order for them to get good sets and good hits I have to get a good pass,” Coleman said. “I try and go back to the basics if I ever get stuck.”

The heart of a good offensive play is rooted in a perfect pass from the defense. The placement of the hands and angle of the forearms is crucial to make sure the ball gets to the setter. It is a tough and demanding job for any player, and Coleman plays it with sheer precision and poise.

“She has a lot of grace,” Arntson said. “I think it's really cool that she can play this position that isn’t as glorified as the others, yet she has so much maturity and she still contributes so much in her position and as a person in general.”

By focusing on the basics of defensive passing and fundamental breakdowns, the Athenas will be ready for any opponent who faces them this season.

“We had a really good season last year, and we want to carry over what we built last year,” Coleman said.

CMS will enter its first conference game against California Institute of Technology (0-5, 0-1 SCIAC) today at Linde Activities Center at Harvey Mudd College.