Athenas Spike, Set, Serve and Bump in Sixth Street Rivalry Defeat of Sagehens

In a game of few sets that featured long and intense points, the Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women's volleyball teams put on a show for the Voelkel Gymnasium crowd on Friday, Oct. 24. At the end of the night, CMS (21-5, 12-2 SCIAC), ranked No. 20 in the nation, took the win from P-P (17-9, 9-5 SCIAC) for the second time this season, winning in straight sets 25-11, 25-20 and 25-21.

Though the Athenas took the first set with little trouble as their dominant opening performance earned them a 25-11 set win, the Hens put up a fight in the second. Leading 19-17, the Hens looked as if they might have gained control, but the Athenas rallied a seven-point run to take the set-point advantage. A kill from Ellen Yamasaki PZ ’15 delayed CMS’s second-set win, though only briefly as Sarah Bruml SC ’18 made a kill from the middle off of a nice set by Clara Madsen CM ’18 to close the set at 25-20.

The final set looked much like the second. The Hens struggled most of the way through, making a short-lived, three-point run toward the end, which ended on a service error on game point for a final score of 25-21. 

All three sets featured long rallies, the majority of which the Hens just barely lost. The Hens’ small, yet crucial, mistakes—such as not covering their hitters and allowing the Athenas to have many opportunities for successful blocks (12 in total)—let slip those otherwise hard-fought rallies.

The Athenas’ blocking has improved immensely throughout the season, owing to the focus they have given to it in practice. According to Nicole Kerkhof CM ’17, CMS video records their blocking drills in practice so that each blocker can watch their hand and body positioning. Kerkhof also stressed that head coach Kurt Vlasich knows it is this kind of attention to minute details that separates great teams from good teams.

The Hens’ blocks, on the other hand, left big gaps on which the Athenas capitalized. This weaker front row defense increased reliance on the back row and sent libero Michelle Schultz PO ’16 flying across the gym floor to make many impressive digs, often at full extension. Schultz racked up 21 digs on the night.

CMS libero Megan Coleman CM ’15 also tallied 21 digs, many of which were on the money and passed perfectly to the setter. Watching her play, it is no wonder why the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) recently named her the Division III player of the week.

Offensively, CMS dominated with a .331 hitting percentage compared to P-P’s .147. Kerkhof led the Athenas in the front row with 14 kills, while Margaux Arntson CM’18 contributed nine kills and Audrey Breitwieser CM ’16 and Regina Mullen CM ’15 each contributed eight.

Allie Frappier PO ’15 led the Hens’ offense with 13 kills, far less than her school-record-setting 40 kills against the Athenas in last year’s game at Voelkel Gymnasium.

Overall, the Hens were disappointed with themselves, knowing that they could have better mentally prepared for the game.

“Obviously CMS is a really good team, and I don’t think we went into that game realizing how much of a battle it was going to be [and] how many long rallies there would be,” Jessica Finn PO ’18 said. “We were frustrated because we knew we could have played a lot better." 

However, the Hens came better prepared to their next two games. P-P beat the University of Redlands 3-1 on Saturday, Oct. 25, and swept Chapman University 3-0 the following Tuesday.

Moving forward, the Hens must beat either the California Institute of Technology or the University of La Verne in their next two games in order to advance to the SCIAC tournament. The Sagehens are making the best of their practices to try to accomplish this goal.

“We’re working on cleaning up those little mistakes we were making [in the CMS game], especially on the defensive side,” Finn said.

On the other hand, the Athenas are focusing more on creating new offensive plays because many of the teams they will face in the SCIAC tournament have footage of them and have probably studied their offense, according to Madsen. CMS is currently locked in a close battle for the SCIAC title with California Lutheran University, whose only league loss is to the Athenas.

Whatever happens in the conference tournament, CMS is proud of how it has played this season, having had among the best records (21-5) of any CMS women’s volleyball team in the history of the program at this point in the season. 

“This conference is one of the most competitive for Division III volleyball, considering that three teams are ranked in the top 25 nationally. So just being able to go to the SCIAC Tournament is a feat on its own,” said Kerkhof. “I couldn't be more proud of my team."