5C women’s club volleyball sets sights on winning nationals

The 2022-2023 women’s club volleyball team (courtesy: 5C women’s club volleyball)

Claremont sure digs the Panthers! Not only does the 5C women’s volleyball club team work to foster a sense of community and inclusivity on campus, but in doing so they hope to set themselves up for success at nationals this year. 

The 5C women’s club volleyball team, also known as the Panthers, competes at the highest level of collegiate club sports, vying for a national title every year. They aim to give their athletes the valuable experience of playing competitively, but the club still appeals to those who want less of a time commitment than playing at the varsity level.

The Panther’s roster consists mostly of students who played varsity or at a similarly competitive level in high school. Nora Tahbaz SC ’23, president and co-captain of the club, originally wanted to play as an Athena at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS), but decided that she wanted to focus more on her academics in college. Playing for the Panthers instead has allowed her to prioritize excelling in school while still competing at a high level.

“Obviously we want to win every game, but it’s much less hostile – it’s a super fun environment,” Tahbaz said. “[The team is] very academic focused, so [playing for CMS or Pomona-Pitzer] would have been a time commitment that not everyone was willing to do. This offers just another way for students to continue playing competitive volleyball and have something active in their week.”

Kaavya Narayan CM ’25, who started playing volleyball in seventh grade, also had aspirations to compete at the varsity level, but she decided that she wanted to explore some other passions in college. 

“I wasn’t sure if I was ready to commit [time-wise] to a varsity team,” Narayan said. “So the club was the perfect balance for me of still being competitive and also having time to explore other interests.”

The club competes in the Southern California Collegiate Volleyball League (SCCVL), and plays against schools from all three divisions including: Azusa Pacific, UC Riverside, Cal State Northridge, UC Irvine, UCLA, UCSB and more. In order to qualify for the league championships towards the end of the season, club teams must perform well in the regular-season tournaments scheduled by the league. Tahbaz said that the pre-set schedule makes planning competition easier for her and her co-captain, Nishka Ayyar CM ’23.

“[The SCCVL] plans our entire season, so we basically have a schedule already set for the spring,” Tahbaz said. “This season, we had three one-day tournaments that we played to try to qualify for leagues in San Diego — some of which we hosted.”

The Panthers practice three times a week to keep up with their competition schedule. Narayan said that the high level of the club makes for fun and engaging practice.

“We’ll typically start with some sort of warm up game, maybe like queen of the court,” Narayan said. “Then we’ll focus on a certain skill that day — if it’s passing, we’ll do half-court serving drills, where we’re working on setter-hitter connections. We usually always end practice with six on six playing, especially if we’re getting ready for a tournament.”

According to Tahbaz, because the club competes at such a high level and participates in many tournaments, they are able to receive lots of funding from different institutions on the campus like ASPC and the Student Investment Fund at Scripps. 

“Between the league fee and the travel and food expenses, volleyball is one of the more expensive sports,” Tahbaz said. “Choosing not to go to nationals — which is hosted in Kansas City this year — would be much less expensive, but I think it is worth it because everyone has a really good time, and it is such a great opportunity to travel for sports. Plus, because we are a club that competes at the national level, we have more flexibility when it comes to when we get to use the gym for practice, and we also are more likely to get more funding for next year.”

Ayyar says that her relationship with Tahbaz has allowed them to lead the team successfully and effectively. As a lot of the administrative aspects and the coaching falls upon them, Ayyar and Tahbaz divide the tasks to make for a balanced leadership.

“Nora and I have been friends since we joined the club together as [first-years],” Ayyar said. “So it’s easy for us to split the duties between us. We both take turns being the more vocal leader at practices but also in handling finances, setting up tournaments and making lineups for our games.”

While many of the students on the travel team are experienced players, the club itself is open to any student who is looking to play volleyball for fun. Tryouts are held at the beginning of every year, and the club hosts open-gym practices several times a semester. Ayyar said that she wishes more people knew about the club in general.

“We don’t do a ton of marketing, so I’m sure there’s a lot of people who don’t even know that we have a club team,” Ayyar said. “I think it would be cool if more people would come play with us during open gym, or even just come out and support us when we have home games.” 

Narayan said that she is happy about the amount of new friends she has made through the club. 

“I would say [the club] is the biggest way I’ve met other 5C students,” Narayan said. “My favorite part about the club would definitely be the team. It’s a great group of girls and it’s fun to play with them, but it’s also fun to just hang out with them and talk about their days and what they’re doing outside of volleyball.”

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