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On to the Semis! CMS Volleyball Takes Down Berry in Four Sets to Advance at Nationals

ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Audrey Sawyer led a balanced offense with 13 kills and the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women's volleyball team dominated the fourth set after a setback in the third to take a 3-1 win over Berry in the NCAA Quarterfinals on Thursday evening at Washington University in Saint Louis.

Set scores were 25-19, 25-20, 21-25, 25-12 as third-ranked CMS improves to 31-1 on the year, tying the program record for wins in a season which was set in 2017 when the Athenas went 31-5 on their way to the national championship. Berry ends its season at 28-3, after coming into the NCAA Quarterfinal round with a No. 12 national ranking. 

Sawyer had 13 kills in 28 attempts with no errors, hitting .464 on the day. Jenna Holmes had 12 kills and 16 digs, Jackie Jones added 10 kills, and Dede Carranza had 26 digs. Georgia McGovern (20 assists) and Spencer Hagenbuch (19) combined for 39 assists. 

CMS didn't always have the smoothest match in the quarterfinals. Berry started out with the first five points, and built a five-point lead in the second set, then took the third when it looked like the Athenas might be able to get a quick 3-0 sweep. But CMS bounced back after dropping the third to player their best volleyball of the night in the fourth to win going away and move on to the semifinal.

"What's great about this team is we just picked up momentum as the season went on, and just dealt with everything as it came to us," said Head Coach Kurt Vlasich, who was named the AVCA National Coach of the Year yesterday. "I don't think anyone has any expectations, we turned over our roster almost entirely, so we're a young squad, but I'm really proud of how we dealt with adversity over the year. I thought that they handled the early surge from Berry really, really well and just settled in and played our game."

In fact, after Berry started out with a 5-0 lead, CMS came right back with three straight points, with Jones getting a kill and combining on a block with Kelsey Polhemus, sandwiched around a Melanie Wiliams kill. The Athenas pulled even at 6-6, and the match was tight until CMS pulled away late, turning an 18-17 lead into a 24-18 advantage. Sawyer had a solo block and Holmes had a kill in a 3-0 run to make it a 21-17 lead, and after Berry broke the run with a point, Holmes and Brenna Bell had kills, Holmes had an ace, and Jones finished off the set with a kill. 

The second set saw Berry lead 8-4 before CMS went on another run, with Sawyer contributing two kills in a stretch of three straight points to make it 8-7. The score was tied 16-16 when CMS rattled off five points in a row, with kills from four different players (Holmes, Sawyer, Bell and Jones). Melanie Williams finished off the set with a kill for a 25-20 win and a 2-0 lead. 

After dropping the third, CMS trailed 8-7 in the fourth but rattled off seven straight points, with Sawyer getting kills on three of the first four points during the run. Holmes had an ace, and Bell had a block to cap it off. Berry stayed within 19-12, but CMS scored the final six points of the match, the last a Sawyer kill off an overpass to send the Athenas through to the semifinals. 

"After that third set, we knew we didn't play our best," said Holmes. "We just regrouped, talked about our game plan, and we talked about our game against Wartburg, how we were the ones who were two down and came back and won those three sets, and we didn't want to let that happen."

The semifinals will see CMS have a rematch against one team it met this season. The Athenas knocked Trinity from the No. 1 spot in the rankings back on Sept. 11 with a 3-1 win at the East-West Battle hosted by Cal Lutheran. Calvin, meanwhile, gave CMS its only loss of the year at its host Midwest Invitational on Oct. 22.