Equipped with a roster that includes a handful of star players who helped secure the 2018 SCIAC championship title, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s volleyball team seems poised for another strong year.
Despite injury and inexperience, the Athenas (9-2, 0-0 SCIAC) won the conference title for the second straight time in 2018, on the heels of a two-year tie for the crown with Cal Lutheran. Cal Lu finished as SCIAC champion for five straight years before that, but now it’s CMS that could solidify its status as the conference’s next dynasty.
After demolishing conference competitors to the tune of a 15-1 record last season, the SCIAC’s head coaches in a preseason poll picked the Athenas to finish first this year as well. The team was also selected to finish No. 5 in the country for Division III, based on a national preseason poll from the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
The Athenas lost 3-1 to Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year but won the national title in 2017.
“I think we just weren’t really ourselves, and we just didn’t really play our game,” setter Phoebe Madsen CM ’20 said, reflecting on the end of last season. “You could almost say we peaked a little too early.”
This year, though, Madsen said the team is avoiding taking games or opponents for granted.
“I think that this season will be one of learning and one of really fierce competition for everything,” she said.
The Athenas return four decorated athletes from last year’s squad, including Madsen, who was named the SCIAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player, SCIAC Athlete of the Year and AVCA West Regional Player of the Year, in addition to a First Team All-American AVCA nod.
Outside hitter Amanda Walker SC ’20, middle blocker Melanie Moore CM ’21 and libero Sarah Tritschler CM ’20 also received conference recognition.
Led by head coach Kurt Vlasich, CMS’ coaching staff in 2018 was named the SCIAC’s Coaching Staff of the Year for the second straight season. The AVCA also recognized Vlasich as the West Region Coach of the Year.
Last weekend, the team traveled to St. Louis for the East to West Battle hosted by Washington University. The No. 3 Athenas defeated No. 1 Emory 3-0 and host Washington University 3-1 before seeing their win streak cut short by No. 6 Juniata in a 3-1 loss.
Madsen said team members in 2018 felt like they “kind of had a target on our back because we were the defending national champions, and so everyone played their absolute best against us.”
Now, with a successful early season behind them, she said the team finds itself in a similar position.
“Any game could be a crazy game and super exciting just because all of our competition is going to come out and play their best against us,” Madsen said, noting Cal Lu, La Verne and Whittier as particularly daunting foes. “And we know that, but it’s really fun for us to always have that competition.”
And for the Athenas, nowhere is the competition more intense than right across Sixth Street.
Pomona-Pitzer’s Sagehens enjoyed a similar streak of success at the end of August, coming out of the Pacific Coast Classic with four straight wins.
The start of September showed them tougher opponents, and the Sagehens (6-4, 0-0 SCIAC) sustained four straight losses to bring their record to an even 4-4. They broke their unlucky streak Sept. 13 with a 3-0 win over Puget Sound.
The next day as well, the Sagehens ended a close game with a 3-2 win over Pacific Lutheran.
“We have lots of talent and potential as a team this year,” Adrienne Tong PO ’22 said. “As long as the team consistently shows up mentally and physically ready with focus and competitive energy, we’ll achieve the best results.”
SCIAC play opens on Friday, with the Athenas traveling to Redlands and the Sagehens up against Cal Lu.
Erika Schwerdfeger contributed reporting.