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CLAREMONT, Calif. - The top-seeded Claremont-Mudd-Scripps volleyball team will begin postseason play when it hosts fourth-seeded La Verne on Thursday night for a SCIAC semifinal contest at Roberts Pavilion, beginning at 7 p.m.
CMS earned the top seed by finishing alone in first place during the SCIAC regular season with a 15-1 record. The Athenas fell to Chapman in five sets on Oct. 1 to slip into second place, but then won the rematch with the Panthers in three sets on Oct. 19 to pull even. After Chapman suffered a late-season loss at Cal Lutheran, the Athenas were left alone in first place to close out the regular season.
La Verne nearly created a co-championship on Saturday, though, as the Leopards won the first two sets over CMS before the Athenas rallied back for a 3-2 win to stretch their winning streak to 11 and secure the outright regular season title. Senior Phoebe Madsen had her second straight triple-double to close out the regular season in that contest, tallying 11 kills, 27 assists and 15 digs, while senior Amanda Walker had 15 kills, and accounted for the final five CMS points in the fifth set with four kills and a block.
CMS also needed four sets to win the first meeting with La Verne at home, back on Sept. 24, as junior Melanie Moore led the Athena attack with 13 kills and Walker added 12. Moore and Walker joined Madsen, who repeated as the Player of the Year for the second season in a row, on the All-SCIAC first team, while senior libero Sarah Tritschler was named to the second team.
The Athenas come into the postseason ranked No. 5 in the nation, and can feel comfortable about its prospects for an NCAA Division III Tournament bid regardless of what happens in the SCIAC Tournament. CMS won the program's first national championship in 2017 before suffering a defeat to Wisconsin Eau Claire in the regionals last year to come up short in its quest for a repeat, but the nucleus of this year's team has been in a national championship setting before and knows that the build up to the NCAA Tournament is always significant.
"That's always the ultimate goal," said Madsen about winning a second national title. "But we have to keep working day by day, game by game to get there."
"Obviously we want to win it all," said senior Lina Aluzri, "but we have always concentrated on taking it step by step and focusing on the little things. Everyone is in it to win, and everyone is super-competitive."
Madsen, a 2018 AVCA first-team All-American, continues to be one of the top candidates for NCAA Division III Player of the Year, due to her versatility in providing a little bit of everything for the Athenas. Typically she handles the setter role for three rotations on the back row and moves to a hitter position for three rotations on the front row, enabling her to lead CMS in assists (516) and aces (48), while also ranking second in kills (196) and digs (304).
Walker is also coming off an All-American season last year when she tallied the third-highest kill total in CMS history with 407. Due to the Athenas having some more balance in their attack this year, she isn't quite on the same torrid pace, but she has still tallied 296 kills through the regular season and has come up big in major spots, including the La Verne win on Saturday. She also had 15 kills in 22 attempts when CMS defeated No. 1 Emory and tied her career high with 23 kills in a five-set win over Cal Lutheran.
Moore, who was a first-team All-SCIAC selection for the second straight season, remains on pace to break the school record for hitting percentage in a career, standing at .322 through almost three full seasons. She also has tallied 1.11 blocks per set to lead CMS (just ahead of fellow junior Regan Dinovitz with 1.02), including a career-high 10 in a win over Whittier. Moore missed one of the three CMS losses while resting a minor injury in the season-opening Pacific Coast Classic, reinforcing her value to the Athenas' success.
Tritschler has had another big year racking up the digs on the CMS back row, totaling 518 (5.45 per set), despite teams frequently doing their best to hit away from her. She is ahead of the pace she had last year (5.14 per set) when she finished with 612 digs, third on the CMS single-season list. She also stands in third on the CMS career digs list with 1489, despite limited action as a first-year, when she played in 11 matches and had 57.
La Verne comes in to the postseason with a 15-12 overall record and a 9-7 conference record, although the Leopards have been dangerous in the head-to-head match-ups with CMS. The team has a very balanced attack, with first-year Ayana Miler (259 kills), junior Pi'ikea Clemens (252 kills) and sophomore Haley Celaya (237 kills) in a very close three-way race for the team lead. Senior setter Madison Maynes, meanwhile, joined Celaya on the All-SCIAC first team after tallying 953 assists during the regular season.
The CMS-La Verne winner will advance to the SCIAC Championship on Saturday against the winner of the other semifinal (Cal Lutheran at Chapman). If CMS wins, it will host the championship match at Roberts Pavilion, while La Verne would travel to face the Cal Lutheran-Chapman winner if it can upset the top-ranked Athenas tomorrow night.
CMS Volleyball Hosts La Verne Thursday Night for SCIAC Semifinal Round
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