Defending National Champion CMS Volleyball Picked to Win SCIAC

Defending National Champion CMS Volleyball Picked to Win SCIAC

CLAREMONT, Calif. - The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps volleyball team, which captured the 2017 Division III National Championship, was the runaway choice to win the SCIAC in 2018 in a preseason poll of the conference's coaches, the league announced today.

CMS, which was also picked No. 1 in the country in the preseason American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III poll earlier this month, received all eight possible first place votes and finished with 80 points, well ahead of second-place Cal Lutheran with 62 points. The Regals were followed closely by La Verne with 60 points in third place, with Whitter (54) and Chapman (48) holding down the fourth and fifth positions in the poll.
CMS will be putting its preseason rankings to the test right away with three early-season tournaments that pit the Athenas against six of the top 15 teams in the country in the AVCA preseason poll, beginning with the Pacific Coast Classic this weekend. The Athenas face Johnson & Wales, the preseason No. 6 team in the nation, at 1:15 p.m. on Friday in their season opener at Roberts Pavilion, followed by a 5:30 p.m. matchup with No. 14 Carthage. On Saturday, CMS hosts Brandeis at 9:30 a.m., and then meets No. 9 Southwestern (Texas) at 4:30 p.m. to close out the opening weekend. 

Although CMS captured the national title last year and will have a target on their backs in every match they play in, the 2018 season will represent a different type of challenge, as the Athenas graduated eight seniors off of the 2017 team and enter the fall without any seniors on the roster. Despite the revamped lineup, head coach Kurt Vlasich is confident that his team will be able to fill the leadership void left by last year's senior class. 

"We had leadership all spring; we had a great spring season," Vlasich said. "Our three captains (Sarah Tritschler, Isabelle Taylor, Phoebe Madsen) have done an incredible job of leading this team and getting them focused on the 2018 season."

"We have no seniors this year," said Taylor (CMC '20). "So we are just focused on rebuilding a team and creating our own legacy."

Madsen (CMC '20) will serve as the quarterback of the team's offense this year, where she tallied 526 assists and 35 service aces last year while sharing the setter duties with her older sister, Clara Madsen, who was one of the eight seniors to graduate. Jessica Lee (CMC '21) also saw some playing time at setter last year and could be ready to step into a larger role in 2018. 

Defensively, Tritschler (CMC '20) will be an important team leader after registering over 300 digs last year in 120 sets. She served as a defensive specialist in 2017, but may slide into the libero role this fall following the graduation of Mikena Werner. Junior Lina Aluzri (CMC '20) and Megan Dymerski (HMC '21) will also look to increase their playing time on the back row this season. 

On the outside, the Athenas will be replacing most of their primary weapons, but Taylor is expected to step up and assume an even larger role after averaging two kills per set last fall. Amanda Walker (SC '20), Margot Mafra Spencer (SC '21) and Lauren Widasky (CMC '21) each averaged around two kills per set as well in part-time action last season and will be ready to step into the void left by the Class of 2018. 

In the middle, CMS is in strong shape with the return of two of their primary contributors to last year's national title. Regan Dinovitz (CMC '21) led the Athenas with 108 blocks last year in her freshman season while also adding 155 kills, and Melanie Moore (CMC '21) contributed 80 blocks and 176 kills. 

Although the core of the national title team graduated a year ago, the lessons of the program's success have filtered down to the younger players, who are ready to take those lessons and apply them this fall. 

"I think one of the most important lessons we learned out of last season was accountability," said Tritschler. "That's one of our big themes this year, to really hold each other accountable on the court and off the court. We are trying to be a really transparent team, and really talk to each other and be open and accountable to each other."

After hosting the Pacific Coast Classic, the Athenas will travel to Texas to take part in Trinity's tournament, meeting Texas-Dallas, Texas-Tyler, No. 11 Trinity and Texas Lutheran. CMS will then host a second tournament when it welcomes in some of the top teams in the nation for the East-West Challenge on Sept. 14-15. CMS will draw preseason No. 5 Emory on Friday, Sept. 14, followed by Texas-Dallas and No. 10 Washington (Mo.) on Saturday, Sept. 15. 

"These early season tournaments are fun because we don't have a set lineup," said Madsen. "We're still just trying to figure each other out. This year we have a really tough schedule; a couple of the games are going to be against top five teams, so it's going to be really, really competitive and really fun."