CLAREMONT, Calif. - Junior Phoebe Madsen had a team-high 10 kills in 21 attempts, to go along with 16 assists and nine digs to earn Most Outstanding Player honors, as the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps volleyball team repeated as SCIAC Champions with a 3-0 win over Cal Lutheran on Saturday at Roberts Pavilion.
Set scores were 25-22, 25-23, 25-14 as the defending national champion Athenas improve to 26-3 on the year and improve their standing as a potential host for the NCAA Division III Regionals (regional sites will be announced on Monday). Cal Lutheran sees its record fall to 18-11, although it should be in strong shape for an at-large bid with wins over No. 2 Johnson & Wales and CMS (currently ranked No. 5) this season.
"It feels great; it's really nice to get the automatic qualifier and solidify our position heading into the NCAA Tournament," said Madsen. "Especially after this third game we had, we had such great momentum towards the end, and it's really nice to go into the tournament with that upwards momentum as we try to get in a rhythm."
It's been at times a difficult journey for this year's team, even though the 26-3 record makes it seem as if it has been a smooth ride. CMS graduated eight seniors off of last year's national title team, had no seniors on this year's squad, and battled several key injuries, including junior captain Isabelle Taylor, who has seen only spot duty this year. Head Coach Kurt Vlasich is impressed with the way his team has been able to pull through the adversity and repeat as champions.
"I'm really proud of this team," he said. "We've dealt with a lot this year, whether it's injuries, illnesses, all kinds of things. We knew going into last year that we had a really deep bench, and this year we knew that bench still existed, and one of the nice things about a team sport is that it's not necessarily about one person, or one group of people, it's about the collective, and when everyone's on the same page and playing the way we did tonight, it's just special."
The pivotal point in the match came in the second set, when Cal Lutheran took a 23-21 lead and seemed poised to even the match at 1-1. However, sophomore middle Regan Dinovitz had a kill to make it 23-22 and then combined on three blocks in a row to end the set, combining with sophomore Lucila Grinspan on the first to tie it, and then with junior Amanda Walker on the last two in a row to give CMS a 25-23 win and a 2-0 lead in the match.
Dinovitz, a regular middle on last year's national title team as a freshman, missed the first 13 matches this year with an illness, and has solidified the CMS lineup heading down the homestretch. Her presence paid big dividends in tonight's win, with five kills and seven blocks.
"Both our middles (Dinovitz and sophomore Melanie Moore) are incredible; they're quite a force when they are both in there together," said Vlasich. "But I think what's special about Regan is that she brings more than being just a good volleyball player -- she's such a great teammate, she's so coachable, she tries so hard, and she puts the effort in, and that goes a long way."
"She's been so, so key," said Madsen, "as you can tell from all the blocks. Setting her, it makes it really easy for the outside and right side, because everyone just wants to block her, and so it opens up everyone, she's such a key player to our offense."
CMS continued the momentum after the second-set comeback and jumped out to a 12-6 lead in the third set with a 5-0 run, including an ace from Grinspan and ending with a kill from Madsen. With the score 15-10, Walker had a kill, junior libero Sarah Tritschler had an ace, and Grinspan had a kill in succession to stretch the lead to 18-10. A Madsen lead made the score 23-13, and a Moore service ace brought CMS to match point. After Cal Lutheran fought off the first one, Dinovitz finished off the title with a kill for a 25-14 win and a 3-0 sweep.
The first set saw Cal Lutheran hold a 21-20 lead late, but Dinovitz and Madsen combined on a block for a 22-21 lead, and a Madsen kill made it 23-21. Cal Lutheran earned the next point, but a service error led to set point, and the Athenas earned it for a 25-22 win when two Cal Lutheran players collided going for a set and the ball fell to the floor.
Walker finished with nine kills, and sophomore setter Jessica Lee had a big contribution off the bench tallying 13 assists and 11 digs while allowing Madsen to move to the outside. Tritschler had a team-high 20 digs, while Dinovitz had seven blocks.
The win puts CMS in a strong position to host an NCAA Regional, which is something that the program would enjoy, both as a chance to play at home and as a chance to showcase their facility.
"That would be really nice," said Madsen. "This gym is really hard to come in and play if you're not used to practicing in it, so the home court advantage is really huge. And it would be nice to not be on the road and going on planes and all that."
"This is obviously such a special place," said Vlasich. "Roberts Pavilion provides such nice amenities for teams coming in, so hosting would just be incredible."