Athenas Win NCAA West Regional Championship in Historic Run

Make way NCAA volleyball, there’s a new name in town. Make that three. After a physically and emotionally exhausting 14-game tournament, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps returned home with some hefty hardware—and a new page for the record books.

After falling to California Lutheran University in the SCIAC Championship game 3-0, CMS entered the NCAA Championships as the third seed in the West Region. The No. 17 ranked Athenas then bullied through three tough opponents last weekend to win the West Regional Championship hosted by Cal Lutheran and earn themselves a trip to Newport News, Va., for the NCAA quarterfinals. The championship, the team’s first ever, extended CMS’s overall record to 27-6, a school record for most wins.

In the first round, the Athenas fought off Mary Hardin-Baylor 3-2. Every set except for the third, in which the Athenas won 25-15, was determined by three points or less.

Throughout the game, CMS and UMHB traded sets, and after a 26-28 loss in the fourth, CMS started the fifth a set down. It wasn’t until an attack error by UMHB and a kill by Nicole Kerkhof CM ’17 that the Athenas took an 11-9 lead. Then a few more attacking errors, as well as blocks by Sarah Bruml SC ’18 and Audrey Breitwieser CM ’16, gave CMS the 14-11 advantage. With sights set on game point, Megan Coleman CM ’15 gave Tanner Hoke CM ’16 a perfect pass to set up Breitwieser, who went up, split the block and spiked down the team’s first round win. 15-12.

This was the team’s second win over UMHB this season, as the Athenas beat the team 3-1 in one of the first matches of the season.

Margaux Arntson CM ’18 lit the court up this night, compiling a season-high 25 kills and a .442 hitting percentage.

“We’re constantly surprised by our own ability,” Arntson said. “We don’t really realize what we can do until we get on the court. Even when we were down, I never really felt panicked. I always felt like we were in control, and I think a lot of that is our maturity.”

Along with the first-year crew, who has proven this whole season that they can compete with the best of the best, CMS can always rely on the consistency of their upperclassmen in Breitwieser, who totaled 18 kills and led with four blocks, and Kerkhof, who added 11 kills and 27 digs of her own.

The second round meant facing long-awaited nemesis Colorado College, who knocked CMS out in this same round last year in a 3-1 defeat. This year, the Athenas came out hot in the first set after winning the first four points and kept that lead all the way to the end, despite a valiant comeback by CC. CMS started the second set the same way, earning the first four points, but Colorado College’s comeback prevailed this time in their 25-22 win. They carried this momentum into the third set, which put the Athenas at a 1-2 disadvantage and required them to win the next two sets to keep their season alive.

“The entire weekend we were saying if we outwork these teams that’s what’s going to win it,” Breitwieser said. “If you make an error or get blocked you have to come back ten times harder the next swing.”

So CMS fought back hard and came out with a 25-22 victory following the lead of Regina Mullen CM ’15, who tallied six of her twelve kills in this set alone. This performance landed Mullen on the All-Tournament Team, along with Breitwieser and Coleman. Coleman was also selected as the Most Outstanding Player after digging up a tournament-high 42 balls to add to her total of 116 for the week.

This impressive effort by Coleman and the rest of the Athena defense gave the offense plentiful opportunities to put the ball down on the other side of the net. In the fifth set, CMS got down early on 4-1, but a kill by Arntson tied it up at 9-9. After an exchange of errors from both sides, Kerkhof gave the Athenas the 14-12 advantage with a kill and a service ace, one of her four aces of the match. Then Breitwieser received a set from Hoke and sent the Athenas to the regional championship with a deep corner kill.

“For the returners the Colorado match was a really big deal,” Breitwieser said. “We came into that match wanting revenge from last year, so I was really happy with that win.”

Breitwieser showed just how badly she wanted to win by tallying a season-high 22 kills. Head coach Kurt Vlaisch agrees that this match is what gave his team all the momentum going into the finals.

“We played our best match in the final against Trinity, but we wouldn’t have been in that position had we not done what we did against Colorado College,” Vlasich said. “That match really stands out because it provided us an opportunity to play the way we did against Trinity.”

On Sunday, CMS made history after defeating fourth-seeded Trinity College in four games. Aside from their 22-25 loss in the second set, the Athenas won by a margin of at least four points in the other three sets. The team was able to fight through any physical and mental fatigue that followed, despite playing ten games over the course of the weekend.

“By the third day, it came down to pure endurance and our ability to stay focused,” Arntson said. She finished the match with 16 kills, adding to her total of 53 for the weekend.

Setters Hoke and Clara Madsen CM ’18 who had 31 and 32 assists, respectively, gave big contributions to the team and were able to find the four Athena hitters who scored in double digits. Mullen finished with 12 kills, adding to her total of 31 for the weekend, while Kerkhof tallied 19 of her 39 kills to lead in this match. Breitwieser led the team over the weekend with her 56 kills, 16 coming from the Trinity match.

“There were a bunch of people who were expected to win, and I don’t think any of that happened the way it was supposed to happen,” Breitwieser said. “There was no time for us to over think anything or worry too much about who was on the other side. It made it all about what was on our side of the net.”

This was definitely something the Athenas have been focusing on, especially since the tournament did not leave much room for scouting reports on the opponent. The Athenas next play Friday at 12:30 p.m., ET, against the Midwest Region’s No. 1 seed Wisconsin-Stevens Point. For this weekend, they’ll stick to relying on the same things that have allowed them to succeed thus far.

“The expectation is to just keep on doing what we’re doing,” Vlasich said. “I think we are a unique team for other teams to match up against. We just need to be who we are and execute and adjust on the fly. It’s a game of adjustments now.”

Until this quarterfinal match, the Athenas first get to bask in the glory of becoming the first team to win the Regional Championship.

 “I feel elated,” Breitwieser added. “When you’re going into this tournament, and you’re not expecting anything out of it, that’s when it feels the best to win it all.”