CLAREMONT, CALIF. - Melanie Moore and Phoebe Madsen combined on the winning block for a 29-27 win in the fourth set as the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps volleyball team took a 3-1 win over La Verne in the semifinals of the 2018 SCIAC Tournament on Thursday evening at Roberts Pavilion.
Set scores were 25-19, 22-25, 25-20, 29-27 as the Athenas improve to 25-3 on the year and advance to the SCIAC Championship against Cal Lutheran, which will be held on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Roberts Pavilion. La Verne falls to 18-11 and will await a possible at-large bid from the NCAA Division III selection committee.
Moore finished with 14 kills on 30 attempts for a .367 hitting percentage, while sophomore Regan Dinovitz finished with 11 kills on 19 attempts (.421) as the two CMS middles had efficient days to lead CMS to the win. Junior outside hitter Amanda Walker had a team-high 15 kills, while sophomore outside hitter Lucila Grinspan had 11 kills and 17 digs for a double-double. Madsen had 44 assists and 12 digs on the day, while junior libero Sarah Tritschler had 25 digs.
The Athenas took a relatively easy 25-20 win in the third set for a 2-1 lead, with La Verne making a late run to make the score look closer than it was, and CMS appeared to be carrying that momentum into the fourth as it jumped out to a 9-5 lead. The Leopards responded, though, and got back even at 19-19, setting up a dramatic finish.
A Dinovitz kill put CMS ahead 24-22 and gave the Athenas two match points, but La Verne responded with the next three points on a kill from Kelsie Sievers and two straight from Haley Celaya. CMS called timeout and freshman Jackie Jones had a kill to take away the set point and tie the score 25-25. Dinovitz staved off another set point with a kill to tie it at 26-26, and Walker had a kill to erase the third La Verne set point and knot it 27-27. This time, Grinspan put the Athenas ahead and Moore and Madsen came up with the big block to end it.
VB: Athenas win! They take the 4th set 29-27 on this block from Moore and Madsen for a 3-1 win. On to Saturday's finals at Roberts Pavilion at 6 pm! pic.twitter.com/lnmMVB1vzy— CMS Athletics (@AthleticsCMS) November 2, 2018
Moore has frequently been involved in dramatic finishing points, including the winning kill for a 15-13 win in the fifth set of the first meeting with La Verne this season, as well as the winning block against Emory for 25-22 in the fourth, the winning kill against Whittier for a 16-14 win in the first and the winning kill against Brandeis at 18-16 in the fifth.
Moore thinks that her success late in tight matches is more emblematic of the team's culture than anything else.
"I think when it really comes down to the line, it's the buzz and energy of knowing that this is the time that you have to make a play. And just knowing that everyone has your back instills confidence in everyone, so it's even easier to make big plays and do what needs to get done."
CMS used a 6-0 run in the first set to jump out to an early 10-6 lead and withstood a late La Verne run that pulled the Leopards within 19-18. Jones responded with a kill and a Madsen ace, followed by a Dinovitz kill stretched the lead to 23-18. La Verne earned the next point, but a Jones kill and a block from Dinovitz and Walker finished off a 25-19 win in the first.
The second set went La Verne's way after CMS battled back after trailing most of the set to tie it 22-22 on a Madsen kill. The Leopards, though, came back with the next three points for a 25-22 win to even the match at 1-1.
The five-minute break saw CMS regroup and come out flying in the third, although Moore said it was more a matter of refocusing than getting fired up.
"We just talked about the little things that we could clean up," said Moore. "Just start over, start fresh, the last set doesn't matter, we can always bring it back. Just knowing that we have trust in each other to know that everyone can make a play and we can all pick it up, I think that is just the spirit of our team; that we can always bounce back from a loss."
Moore had consecutive kills to put CMS ahead 7-3 early in the set, and the Athenas built a lead up as high as 10 points at 22-12 on a Grinspan kill. La Verne went on a 7-2 run to pull within 24-20, but Moore finished it off with a kill to give the Athenas the 25-20 win and a 2-1 lead in the match.
CMS split with Cal Lutheran during the regular season, winning 3-1 at home, behind 40 digs from Tritschler and then falling in five sets at Cal Lutheran, despite a career-high 61 assists from Madsen after leading 23-20 in the fourth with a 2-1 lead in the match. It was the only conference loss that the Athenas suffered this season, and one that they can avenge with a championship win on Saturday night at 6 p.m.