CLAREMONT, Calif. - A year ago, the CMS Volleyball team had a perfect postseason, going 8-0 to win both the SCIAC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament, marking the first national title in the program's history. After a successful regular season, the task for the Athenas changes to trying to defend their postseason titles, starting this week.
CMS opens SCIAC Tournament play when it hosts the semifinals on Thursday night at 7 p.m. against La Verne at Roberts Pavilion (admission is $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and veterans, and free for children under 12 or faculty, staff and students with school ID). If the Athenas win the semifinals, they will then be back at Roberts Pavilion on Saturday night at 6 p.m. against the winner of the other semifinal between Cal Lutheran and Chapman.
With a current No. 5 national ranking, CMS is also in the mix to potentially host an eight-team NCAA Regional, which would take place from Nov. 9-11. The winner of that regional would then move on to nationals, which will be held Nov. 15-17 at the Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh.
As a program, CMS is the defending national champion, but the individuals doing the defending are largely different than a year ago. Eight seniors graduated off of last season's team, and tri-captain Isabelle Taylor, a starter in the national championship match last year, has been limited to spot duty this season due to injury. The other two tri-captains, setter Phoebe Madsen and libero Sarah Tritschler, are the primary veterans that the Athenas can turn to, but even they have doubled their roles from a year ago, with Madsen going from a part-time setter in a 6-2 to a full-time setter (who sometimes moves to outside hitter as well), while Tritschler has moved from a defensive specialist to a libero, doubling her time on the court.
Many of the younger players on the roster will be going through the postseason gauntlet for the first time, but one of the important lessons Madsen says she is trying to relay to them from her own experience, is not to treat it any differently.
"Honestly, it's the best thing to treat it like it's just another game," Madsen said. "We all have our routines on how we get ready mentally and physically for games, and we can't really treat it totally differently. But it's definitely a different mindset to have it be just a little more competitive, a little more on the line, single elimination, things like that. But the routine definitely needs to stay the same."
Tritschler adds that preparation and focus in practice becomes a little more important this time of year.
"There's so much more on the line," Tritschler said. "If we win the SCIAC Tournament, we get an automatic bid to regionals, and there's a chance we could host regionals, which would be amazing academic-wise, plus we have such a home court advantage, so we are really keeping our focus on these next two matches. They are teams that we've played and we know what they like to do, so we just have to prepare."
CMS took both meetings with La Verne, but the first one took a little extra work, as the Athenas prevailed 3-2 on the road (15-13 in the fifth set) in their SCIAC opener back on Sept. 18. Junior outside hitter Amanda Walker had 21 kills in that one, while sophomore middle Melanie Moore had 14 kills in 25 attempts, including the match-winner at 14-13 in the fifth.
The rematch at Roberts Pavilion on Oct. 13 saw the Athenas win in three, although all three sets were competitive (25-21, 25-23, 25-21). Sophomore middle Regan Dinovitz, only one week removed from joining the lineup for the first time after missing 13 matches witn an illness, had 10 kills in 17 attempts in that one.
CMS has compiled an impressive 55-8 record over the last two years, 31-5 in 2017 on its way to the national title, and 24-3 so far this year. The 31 wins last year is a school record, which this year's team can break it it duplicates the feat of an 8-0 postseason. The first rung on that potential ladder is Thursday night against La Verne.