Though the CMS volleyball team’s NCAA run ended Saturday, Nov. 14, the season as a whole was a massive success. The Athenas (27-6, 14-2 SCIAC) accomplished many firsts in their 2015 season: They beat Emory University, the No. 1 team in the country, and dominated California Lutheran University decisively in three sets to become the SCIAC champions.
For outside hitter Crystal Anderson CM ’18, the team’s success in the SCIAC championships derived from communication, remaining calm in moments of pressure, and executing the game plan.
“We weren’t expected to win, but we knew we could,” Anderson said. “We had a game plan, and if we stuck to it, and we all did our individual jobs, and we limited our errors and just focused on our side of the net, we could win.”
In addition to becoming the SCIAC champions, the Athenas also had one of their most pivotal games against Emory at the Emory National Invitational in September. For Anderson, this match helped CMS establish confidence for the rest of the season.
“They were the No. 1 team in the country at the time, and we were going into a tournament that we had never been invited to before,” she said. “Everyone expected us to lose, and we felt like we had nothing to lose. We went in there and did our best, and it turned out well.”
After losing 3-2 against University of La Verne and 3-0 to Cal Lutheran, the Athenas were determined to establish themselves in the SCIAC conference. Throughout October, CMS dominated with a 13-1 record, losing only to Southwestern University (Tex.) in a nail-biting 3-2 set.
“After we originally lost to La Verne and Cal Lutheran early in SCIAC, that put more pressure on us toward the end of playoffs,” setter Clara Madsen CM ’18 said. “We really came together toward the middle of SCIAC, so the second half was really good for us, especially in the last couple games. We focused a lot on executing the game plan, because that was something we had struggled with; we really figured it out in those last couple of matches.”
CMS played with complete focus and poise throughout the SCIAC playoffs, decisively beating La Verne 3-0 before earning the SCIAC crown in a 3-0 stomp on Cal Lutheran’s own turf.
“It didn’t quite feel real until afterwards when we were in the locker room,” Anderson said following the SCIAC victory. “I was really excited for our team and for the success that we could have moving forward.”
CMS carried their momentum into the first two rounds of the NCAA Regional tournament, sweeping their rematch with Southwestern 3-0 before falling to Washington University in St. Louis. Even in the loss to Wash U, the No. 1 seed, CMS stayed composed and battled to the very end, fighting relentlessly in the 29-27, 26-24, 25-14 loss. Madsen credited the team’s mental toughness.
“There were points where they were up as much as eight points,” Madsen said. “Despite the score and the fact that we ended up losing the game, we still had the momentum because we had made such a huge push and a comeback. No matter how many points they were up, we refused to just roll over.”
For CMS volleyball, the future looks bright: Though they will graduate captain Tanner Hoke CM ’16, thirteen of the fourteen current players will return next season. With the team’s current experience, along with a strong recruiting class, the Athenas hope to replicate this season’s success and make these firsts into reoccurring events.