Athenas Dethrone Defending National Champion Regals in Upset

The CMS volleyball team celebrates after winning against defending national champions Cal Lutheran on Saturday, Sept. 24.

The record-setting crowd at Roberts Pavilion rose as one as Shelbi Stein CM ‘18 smashed the ball over the net, recording a kill and handing the No. 2 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps volleyball team (12-0, 4-0 SCIAC) their second set against No. 4 California Lutheran University (12-3, 3-1 SCIAC). CMS went on to grab a crucial four-set victory over the Regals, 15-25, 25-22, 26-24, 25-19.

The victory over the defending national champions maintained CMS's undefeated start to the season. The Athenas got off to a rough start, trailing 9-2 before being able to successfully settle into the game. They played the Regals closely for the rest of the set, but the slow start was too much to overcome.

In the second set, the Athenas found their rhythm, racing to an 8-3 lead.

“We stopped giving them free points,” explained coach Kurt Vlasich when asked what changed between the first and second sets.“We made 10 unforced hitting errors in the first set," he reported. "We cleaned that up in the second and third sets." 

The Regals were able to fight back to 12-12, but two crucial kills by Stein gave the Athenas the lead back at 17-13, and this time they would not relinquish it. The teams traded points until another kill from Stein ended the set, 25-22 Athenas.

“I've got to give [the crowd] all the credit in the world," Vlasich commented. "We still weren’t playing our best volleyball, but when you have the crowd like that to pick you up, it's pretty inspiring."

The third set saw neither team able to create separation from their opponents, until Cal Lutheran was able to build a 12-8 lead. In a pivotal turning point, CMS responded by claiming three points themselves and cutting their deficit back to one. From there, the important third set remained tight, but the Regals were the first team to bring up set point at 24-23. Here, another set of three points, punctuated by a service winner by Mikena Werner SC ‘18 turned the momentum around and gave CMS a two sets to one lead.

Fans from both sides took turns getting out of their seats as the two teams exchanged points and momentum in the fourth set. Vlasich, though, believes that the team played more calmly once they had the lead.

“The third set was really where it all turned around. After that, we were really able to settle down,” he said.

With Cal Lutheran ahead 16-15 and eyeing a decisive fifth set, the Athenas played some of their best points of the entire match, reeling off five straight points to take the lead and find themselves within striking distance of a victory.

The Athenas held onto their lead, ending the win with yet another kill from Stein, who ended the day with a team-high 16 kills, while Werner added on a season-high 34 digs.

Despite these strong performances, Vlasich notes that one of the team’s strengths is the ability of different players to play well in different matches. “It’s really amazing when you get to coach a group where, in an unpredictable fashion, somebody else steps up on that night.”

The Athenas return to gameplay with a match at the California Institute of Technology on Sept. 30 before returning to Roberts Pavilion to take on Whittier College on Oct. 1.