Pomona College's Voelkel Gymnasium was a battleground of colors on Saturday afternoon. A blue-and-white blur zipped over, under, and into the net. A formation of blue, white, and orange stood against a formation of yellow and red. Six squared off against six, separated by only a thin black mesh at the center. Cries were heard, skin flashed, and sweat stained the brown hardwood floor.
It was the showdown on Sixth Street.
The stands were packed with 112 fans in attendance. Having just played their first rivalry match the past week, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (22-5, 12-2 SCIAC) and Pomona-Pitzer (12-12, 7-7 SCIAC) matched up again on Saturday, Oct. 24, at Pomona-Pitzer's home court.
Both teams were riding high tides into this match. The night before, CMS had won a five-set thriller against California Lutheran University (22-4, 12-2 SCIAC), which is currently tied with CMS for No. 1 in SCIAC. On the other side, P-P was coming off a 3-0 season sweep of the University of Redlands (6-18, 2-12 SCIAC). With both teams in high spirits, the match was bound to be a close one.
“We stepped onto the court for the CMS game with the intent of improving our play from our last game with them, showing how much stronger we've become since last playing them, and defending the coop,” outside hitter Stephanie Sun PO '17 said.
The match was indeed a close one. In the first set, the score was tied at 10-10, 11-11, 12-12. The set continued in this fashion with not one team able to acquire a two point lead. It was the Sagehens that broke the stalemate with kills from opposite hitter Kate Porter PO '18 and outside hitter Julia Zwaal PZ '19 to give P-P a 22-20 lead, forcing the Athenas to call a timeout.
In such a delicate balance of forces, the decisive factor that tipped the set in favor of the Athenas was errors. A questionable call, coupled with attack errors, caused the Sagehens to drop the first set to the Athenas with a set score of 25-22.
“In the end, it came down to little points that we lost, occasional errors that, disappointingly, lost us the game,” Sun said.
In the second set, the Athenas were dominant. They rallied a 10-0 run behind the powerful serves of outside hitter Shelbi Stein CM '18, who had four service aces. With the help of the big lead, CMS was able to stave off a late run by P-P to wrap up the second set 25-15.
The third and final set looked a lot like the first. The Sagehens and Athenas were neck-and-neck. Neither team gave up ground and the score evened out at 17-17. However, unlike the first set, the deciding factor was not errors but kills. It was a battle of keeping the ball in play. Both teams’ hitters unleashed spike after spike and the defenses held firm to keep the ball from falling and in the air. Yet, the Athenas' defense held the edge and were able convert their spikes into kills.
It was match point. The score was 24-21 CMS. Middle blocker Sarah Bruml SC '18 in the backcourt served the ball. Touches kept the ball the up. It was the fight against gravity. Finally, a spike sent the ball to meet its fated destiny: the ground. That marked Stein's match-high 16th kill and the end of the final rivalry match of the regular season.
“Although obviously the ultimate outcome was not what we would have hoped for, it is always an exciting game and I believe our team did well responding to the challenge they presented, and it was definitely a fun game to play in and be a part of,” setter Jessica Finn PO '18 said.
CMS continued their dominant performance into their match against Occidental College (9-14, 5-10 SCIAC), taking the match 3-1. The resilient Sagehens bounced right back from the tough loss and turned the tables against the California Institute of Technology (2-21, 0-15 SCIAC) with a 3-0 win.
“Having two SCIAC games in one day was definitely a tough schedule, but I think we were able to rebound and come out strong against Caltech because we were able to maintain our focus and mental discipline and not allow an unfavorable outcome earlier in the day to effect our success against Caltech,” Finn said.
The Athenas next take the court against Chapman University (9-13, 6-8 SCIAC) on Friday, Oct. 30, at home and are well on track for the SCIAC tournament as the second seed in SCIAC. The Sagehens, coming off a 3-0 upset of the University of La Verne (19-5, 13-3 SCIAC), will fight against Whittier College (17-9, 8-6) for the fourth seed to qualify for the SCIAC tournament on Friday, Oct. 30.