Blockers, Hitters, and Diggers Rise to the Occasion

Woman jumping into the air to hit volleyball
Jessica Finn PO ’18 sets the ball for Emma Burdekin PO ’16 • Morgan Albrecht

As the University of Redlands’ middle hitter jumped for a kill, four outstretched hands loomed in front of her. With nowhere else to hit, the Bulldogs’ player spiked the ball into the hands of blockers Sarah Gamble PO ’17 and Kate Porter PO ’18. The ball made contact with a solid smack but was successfully pressed over and into the opposing court. Advantage: Sagehens (10-11, 5-6 SCIAC).

Despite a bitter loss to Southwestern University (23-2), the Sagehens refocused and rallied to sweep Redlands off their feet with a 3-0 victory on Tuesday, Oct. 20. The Sagehens were in a pinch as they were down 14-4 in the first set. However, the Hens stormed back despite the early deficit, taking the first set by a score of 26-24.

“That really showed our integrity as a team because we were able to fight back from such a big point deficit,” Porter said.

The Sagehens’ defense has played a key role in their crucial victories over Occidental College (9-11, 5-7 SCIAC) and Redlands (5-16, 1-10 SCAIC), as their blockers have been especially instrumental in forming the Sagehens’ ironclad defense.

“The main goal [of the blocker] is to guide the defense,” Porter explained. “Ideally the hitter has to hit around the block. You’re doing your job by funneling the ball to our defense.”

The Sagehen blockers certainly have been doing their job by setting the blocks in the correct spot so that the defense can form behind them. Behind them is libero Michelle Schultz PO ’16 who had 20 digs against Occidental, 19 against Southwestern, and 20 against Redlands. With these second-chance opportunities created off their solid defense, the Sagehens have been racking up kills off the hands of outside hitters Stephanie Sun PO ’17 and Julia Zwaal PZ ’19, who had 10 kills in their victory against Occidental.

“We have taken some time to mesh,” Porter said.

The Sagehens’ team chemistry certainly has been improving throughout the season and it couldn’t have clicked at a better time. With the wins against Occidental and Redlands, the Sagehens are tied with Whittier (14-9, 5-6 SCIAC) for fifth seed in SCIAC with Occidental right at their heels. With tough upcoming matchups against third-seed Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (19-5, 9-2 SCIAC) and second-seed University of La Verne (17-4, 11-4 SCIAC), the Hens’ focus is on securing the fourth seed that will guarantee them a spot in the SCIAC tournament in November.

“We’re going to do our very best to take those teams down and win,” Porter said. “We’re going to have to increase our focus and outsmart them and outplay them.”

The Sagehens will play again at home on Saturday, Oct. 24 at 12 p.m., facing CMS after a tough loss to the Athenas last week.

“We’re going to stay more focused,” Porter, who will shoulder a big burden in the upcoming game, said. “Our block definitely needs to improve against them from the last time we played them.”

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