Despite Loss to CMS, P-P Heads to NCAAs with At-Large Bid

After finishing the regular
season last week, Pomona-Pitzer women’s volleyball took the court against
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps for the first round of the SCIAC postseason tournament.
Although the Hens had come out victorious against the Athenas twice this year,
history did not repeat itself on Thursday—a four-game match eliminated the Hens
from the tournament. CMS was swept in the championship match against California
Lutheran University, but both teams live to fight another day, with each
securing a bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.

The Claremont
teams drove an hour and a half to Cal Lutheran’s gym in Thousand Oaks, the host
site of the tournament. The CMS Athenas took an early lead in the first game,
10-5, but in typical Sagehen fashion Allie Frappier PO ’15 smashed a few kills
to put the Hens ahead 14-13. A block from Sam Cahill PO ’15 ended a long rally
to tie the game up at 20, but Nicole Kerkhof CM ’17 slammed two powerful kills
to spark a five-point run for the Athenas, securing the first game.

CMS kept their
momentum running well into the second game, surging ahead 10-4 and steadily
building a lead until Coach Valerie Cowan called a timeout with P-P down 10-19. The
break wasn’t enough to slow down the Athenas, though, who cruised to 2-0 in the
match with a 25-15 win.

Down 7-3 in the
third game, P-P came alive, scoring six in a row led by strong serves from
Frappier, who had three aces on the night. The Hens kept rolling, going 11-1 on
the next twelve points, prompting a CMS timeout with the score 12-8, P-P.
Claremont teams showed an impressive resilience, though, as the Athenas, like
the Hens earlier, fought and clawed to bring the score to 16-17. However,
Frappier to the rescue with a kill and an ace, and P-P took game three 25-19.

Keeping their
momentum just like CMS had in the second game, the Hens got ahead 7-2 in the fourth game, but just
as the Hens had battled back CMS tied it at 10. A kill from Samantha
Quesada-Diaz PZ ’17 snapped the Athenas’ scoring streak and P-P snuck ahead
14-12, but with Hilary Bruegl SC ’14 serving, the Athenas tied it at 14 and
went 8-0 to take the lead, 20-14. Kelli Derrah PO ’17 ended the CMS streak with
a huge kill, but Audrey Breitweiser CM ’16 returned the favor with a kill of
her own (one of 18 for her on the night). Regina Mullen CM ’15 slammed a pair
of kills to give CMS match point. The Hens fought off defeat three times, but
Monique Nguyen CM ’15 notched the final kill for the Athenas, winning the game
at 25-21 and the match 3-1.

Kirea Mazzolini PO
’15 had seven of P-P’s eleven blocks on the night, and Beth Smilkstein PO ’14
had 17 digs. For CMS, Breitwieser had 18 kills and Bruegl was a key asset to
the Athena offense with 50 assists.

The Claremont
rivalry makes for quality volleyball—in their first meeting, the Hens swept
CMS, but each game was won by just two points, and the second featured a
spectacular 35-33 fourth set P-P win and Frappier’s 40 kills. 

“CMS is a great team, and it is always
tough to beat a great team three times,” Cowan said. Both Cowan and Smilkstein cited the
second match with CMS as their favorite of the season.

“The team
just kept plugging away and not giving up. I could not have been more proud of
them,” Cowan said. She has a lot to be proud of: second place in conference, 20 wins, and a
SCIAC Player of the Year, just to name a few.

Smilkstein racked
up 1,238 digs during her P-P career, which ranks her eighth in program history. 

“I can honestly say this has
been my all-around best year playing a team sport, and that is saying
something. Not only were we successful, but it came about through hard work and
cohesion, and I am proud of the things we represent on the court,” she said. “We knew our areas of improvement needed to be the less tangible
things: mental focus, determination, and teamwork. When I’m on the court, I
believe in my team and its ability to win, and in my own ability to fight to
make it happen.”

Frappier still leads every division in the nation with 6.16 kills per set. She currently has 490 kills, and will definitely crack 500 in Friday’s match, but it remains to be seen if she will crack Joanne Nielson’s single-season record of 540.

The Hens were 5-3 in the first round of the SCIAC tournament and improved to 7-1 in the second half. Despite the
semifinal loss, P-P found out on Monday that they had received an at-large bid
to the NCAA tournament. The Hens will be traveling to Texas on Friday to
participate in the NCAA Division III Regional tournament hosted by Trinity
University. The Hens will square off with the University of Texas, Dallas at
9:30 a.m. on Friday in their opening round of play. P-P will have to play well
and continue to get solid play from Frappier to defeat a tough UT Dallas squad.
If the Hens advance they will play the winner of Cal Lutheran/Hardin-Simmons University match-up, on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

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