For the fifth consecutive season, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athenas (25-5, 15-1 SCIAC) faced off against the California Lutheran (Cal Lu) Regals (16-12, 10-6 SCIAC) with the SCIAC postseason title on the line. After losing three of the past four years' matches, the Athenas won their second SCIAC tournament championship in three years, and second overall, on Saturday, Nov. 5th.
The Athenas’ win marked the continuation of a dominant season-long run, as it marked their 16th straight win overall. The Athenas swept 12 matches during the streak. Heading into the first round of the NCAA Regionals, the team has won 23 consecutive sets, dating back to a 3-2 win over La Verne on Oct. 17.
“We were really beat up at the beginning of the season, but the girls did an amazing job of taking it one day at a time, one match at a time,” said head coach Kurt Vlasich. “I think people predicted us to be the favorites to win the conference, but you still have to win those matches, and so it’s important that you approach it with a day-to-day, match-to-match mentality.”
When the 23-set win streak was brought up, Vlasich added that “[he] hadn’t thought about that run. When we get involved in a set, we focus on just that set. I don’t think we go into any match looking to sweep an opponent.”
That’s exactly what the Athenas did in Saturday’s final, when they collected 62 digs and six aces, compared to their opponents’ 42 and zero, respectively. The Athenas also hit for a percentage of .339, with 50 kills and only 12 errors en route to a 25-19, 25-14, 25-16 win.
Shelbi Stein CM '19, the tournament’s MVP, led the team with 12 kills and a .385 hitting percentage. Vlasich said that what really stood out to him this season is that “it’s been somebody different every single match. When the conference asks you to choose an MVP, and you have four hitters hitting over .300 and a setter who registered a double double in assists and digs, it’s difficult. I guess you can say that it’s nice that everybody has stepped up at some point”.
The win seemed fairly easy for the Athenas, who never trailed at any point in time during the three sets. An 8-1 run at 13-10 put the Athenas just four points away from the first set, and left their opponents almost out of reach. That run was critical, considering the rest of the set was closely contested, before CMS took it 25-19.
The key streak in the second set came at 15-10, when Sarah Tritschler CM ’20 served six straight winning points for the Athenas, and the set was clinched shortly thereafter on a Cal Lutheran service error.
CMS got off to an equally strong start in the third set, putting a dent in any hopes of a Regals comeback. Regan Dinovitz had three kills in the early going as the Athenas built a 9-2 lead. At match point, Amanda Walker SC recorded a kill to clinch the title for her team.
In the first round of the NCAA regionals, CMS will face University of Texas at Dallas (24-10), a team they swept 3-0 on September 2nd at the Pacific Coast Classic. The next game will take place on Friday, Nov. 10 in Georgetown, Texas. “They’ve got great personnel and a really good coach, so I anticipate that they’re going to be better than they were at the beginning of the season,” said Vlasich.