Athenas look to defend tournament title

Nicole Kerkhof (Photo by Connor Ortman)
Nicole Kerkhof (Photo by Connor Ortman)

CLAREMONT, Calif. – The No. 2 seed Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women's volleyball team is set to host No. 3 seed La Verne for the third consecutive year in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's Postseason Tournament Semifinal. CMS enters the tournament on the heels of earning the program's fourth SCIAC regular season championship, tying with No. 1 seeded Cal Lutheran at a 14-2 record in conference play. The Regals host No. 4 seed Pomona-Pitzer in the other semifinal match.

Both semifinals are slated for tonight, Nov. 3, with the tournament championship on Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. hosted by the highest remaining seed. The winner of the tournament earns the automatic qualification to the NCAA Tournament that will begin on Nov. 11.

For ticketing and general tournament information, please visit the SCIAC Tournament page.

SCIAC Tournament Page | Live Stats | Video

In 2014 and 2015, CMS won the SCIAC semifinal match vs. La Verne by scores of 3-1 and 3-0 respectively. Both of these matches were played in No. 1 seed Cal Lutheran's Gilbert Arena, while this year, the conference elected to have each the No. 1 and No. 2 seeded teams host the semifinal games. In both of those previous years, the Athenas had lost to the Leos in five sets during the regular season as well.

The Athenas are currently ranked No. 4 in the nation and No. 2 in the West Region. Head coach Kurt Vlasich notes that "We are well prepared for this tournament. We are healthier than when we last faced La Verne so I think it will be a very competitive match."

CMS is led by a cohort of juniors, seven of whom will see significant time on the floor tonight. All-SCIAC selections Shelbi Stein (CMC), Mikena Werner (SC), and Clara Madsen (CMC) lead the team in different capacities. Stein owns a 3.29 kills per set average while hitting .300 as an opposite. Werner tops the conference in total digs (430) and digs per set (5.73) and also adds 1.51 assists per set. Madsen leads the team at with 533 assists and pairs up with her sister Phoebe Madsen (CMC) for a combined 12.05 assists per set.

Also in the junior class are middles Sarah Bruml (SC) and Mariah Rigg (CMC). The pair is instrumental in slowing down opponent attacks at the net and together are hitting .287 on the season.

Senior Nicole Kerkhof (CMC) earned her fourth All-SCIAC nod will play a dynamic role on the court tonight. She contributes 3.48 kills per set plus an average of 3.67 digs per set.

The Leos own a 22-5 overall and 13-3 SCIAC record. ULV is AVCA-ranked No. 19 and No. 8 in the West Region. Kelsi Robinson was named the SCIAC Athlete of the Year and a total of six Leopards (Tiffany Mancuso, Cassie Thompson, Delaney Lynch, Marisa Rojo, Kristen Sanchez) were also selected to All-SCIAC teams. La Verne is ranked sixth in the nation in hitting percentage at .265 overall and are hitting .274 in conference play. Against CMS during the regular season, the All-SCIAC middle blockers Robinson and Thompson combined for 34 kills at a .363 clip in the Leos' 3-2 victory while, in the loss on Sept. 23, the duo was limited to 13 kills on .170 hitting.

Cal Lutheran (23-4, 14-2 SCIAC) and Pomona-Pitzer (13-12, 8-8 SCIAC) face off in the other semifinal. The Regals are the defending NCAA National Champions and currently ranked No. 3 nationally by AVCA and No. 3 in the West Region. CLU is led by First Team All-SCIAC selection, Hope Stewart. Joining Stewart with First Team All-SCIAC accolades is Michelle Lawrence and Sarah Pappas. Monica Lundgren leads the team with 89 total blocks and Pappas is right behind her with 88. Nicki Tetherow, meanwhile, reeled in Second Team All-SCIAC honors and is the backbone of the defense with a team-high 404 digs. Facilitating the offense has been junior setter Jamie Smith, who has dished out 851 assists for an average of 10.13 assists per set.

Pomona-Pitzer has been led by sophomore outside hitter Julia Zwaal and SCIAC Newcomer of the Year Isabel Kelly. Zwaal has tallied a team-high 298 kills this season for an average of 3.27 per set while Kelly has totaled 248. Defensively, Sarah Gamble leads the Sagehens with 67 total blocks while Vicky Addo-Ashong and Kelly have 55 and 54, respectively. A trio of Sagehens have surpassed the 200-dig plateau led by Zwaal's 269. Handling the setting duties has been junior Jessica Finn who has 657 assists this season.

By Emily Nordhoff
Sports Information Director

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