The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps volleyball team (11-3, 1-1 SCIAC) rallied for an impressive 3-2 verdict (21-25, 29-31, 25-20, 25-21, 15-7) against No. 1 Emory University (12-2) on their home court on Saturday, Sept. 19. The huge win capped off a strong performance by the CMS squad at the Emory National Invitational this weekend.
Despite suffering a narrow 2-3 defeat to Washington University in St. Louis (13-1) on Friday, Sept. 18, the Athenas rebounded to cruise past both Wheaton College (4-9) and Franklin & Marshall College (6-6), each with 3-1 scores, before toughing out a five-set victory over the top-ranked team in Division III. The last time CMS defeated the No.1 DIII team was Oct. 11th, 2008, when the Athenas were pitted against then-top Juniata College in the Leopard Invitational.
Outside hitter Nicole Kerkhof CM ’17 topped the CMS offensive effort with 58 kills in four games, followed by outside hitters Crystal Anderson CM ‘18 and Shelbi Stein CM ‘18, each at 46. Libero Mikena Werner SC ‘18 continued her solid defensive play with an average of 23 digs per game.
“We came in with an underdog mentality and a nothing-to-lose attitude,” Kerkhof said. “We knew that if we left everything on the court, the results would come.”
In the matchup, Emory was quick to build a lead, hitting a combined .387 in two offensively well-rounded sets to establish a six-point advantage (17-11) in the first set. The Athenas answered back, but were unable to round off a comeback for the first set.
Shelbi Stein came up huge in the second set, contributing seven kills to back the Athenas' offense. Tied at 21 apiece, CMS capitalized on the attacking errors of Emory to realize its first lead of the set, but unfortunately dropped the set 29-31 when they lost two clutch points to fall behind 2-0.
One set away from a sweeping loss, the Athenas rallied and came out on fire, launching an incredible comeback against Emory.
“Our mentality was just to focus on one point at a time,” Kerkhof explained. “During the first two sets, we found ourselves looking at the bigger picture of winning the set, so for the last three, we wanted to just focus on each play separately.”
The Athenas successfully stymied the home team with their defense, holding Emory to an attack percentage of .101 in the last three sets. CMS gained a six-point lead early in the third set. Emory was unable to erase the deficit as CMS took the set.
“We had specific strategies to run different combos so the ball would be spread out all across the net, so they would have a tough time blocking us and defending our hits… it throws the other team off,” Anderson explained.
The fourth set saw both teams neck-and-neck until Kerkhof, who recorded five kills in the set, and setter Tanner Hoke CM ’16, who came up big with 10 assists, boosted the Athenas' offense and secured the set.
In the last set, CMS took an early three-point lead on Anderson’s kill. Emory then answered back with four of the next six points, but Athena serving and defense flustered the Eagles as CMS forced four consecutive errors from Emory to regain control.
“The fifth set is always really intense,” Anderson remarked. “Mikena Werner just went on a serving spree. After that we just won by 15-7. [It was] a pretty big win. ”
Stein topped the game’s offensive effort, racking up a season-high 22 kills. Anderson led the team in a total of six blocks, and Werner carried the defensive effort, totaling 19 digs. Hoke chipped in 31 assists and eight digs.
After falling on the road to the University of La Verne 3-2, the Athenas next take the court Friday, Sept. 25, at 7:30 p.m. in the Linde Activities Center.