|Dream is over for the Leopards|
|Posted Nov. 17, 2006|
Cue the dim lights and ominous music.
The No. 1 seeded La Verne Leopards have been eliminated from the NCAA Division III Volleyball National Championships.
The Leopards fell to the eventual West Regional champ, and Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champ runner-up, Cal Lutheran Regals in the regional semifinals last Friday night in five games, 30-28, 22-30, 30-27, 30-32, 15-10.
“It’s just surreal,” junior middle blocker Tiona Hobson said. “It’s hard to come out against a team like that three times.”
Penalties killed the Leopards, especially late in the match. In game four, after scoring six unanswered points to take the lead, 20-18, ULV appeared to have all the momentum and looked to close out the game and match on a high note.
However, with the game tied up at 30, the No. 4 seeded Regals were able to score the next two points, the last coming on a net violation by Hobson.
“That was extremely frustrating,” Hobson said. “I don’t think I was in the net. It just sucks to end the game on a call like that.”
With the call swinging the momentum Cal Lu’s way, the Regals were able to close out the match in game five, with the two closing kills by sophomore outside hitter Summer Plante-Newman.
“I knew we had to play our hardest,” Plante-Newman said. “I just had faith in the team that we would get it done.”
“Summer’s been a bit up and down during the season,” Cal Lu head coach Kellee Roesel said. “She’s really proven herself in the last few months. She’s phenomenal in the clutch and just mentally strong.”
Junior opposite Jodi Lindsay, who was named 2006 First Team All-America American by the Volleyball Coaches Association, was noticeably flustered by the loss.
“It was emotional. We fought hard. There’s no easy loss, ever,” she said.
What made the game four loss even more crushing was the way that the Leopards were able to finish game three.
With Cal Lu up 27-26, ULV’s freshman middle blocker/outside hitter Crista Jones went on a tear, scoring four straight kills to win the game.
“That got us up 2-1,” 2006 AVCA West Region Coach of the Year Don Flora said. “I think we had a big opportunity there with the momentum going our way. Crista was [SCIAC] Freshman of the Year for a reason.”
The stat of the match would be the discrepancy in kills by the top two players of each team. Lindsay led the Leopards with 16, followed by Jones with 14, but the Regals had senior middle blocker Mo Coverdale with 28 and Plante-Newman with 27.
“It’s just one of those things,” Flora said. “Both teams played phenomenal volleyball. Cal Lu just dug deeper.”
“I have so much respect for this team and how hard they worked,” he added. “It’s just painful to go out like this.”
This is the first home loss to a SCIAC rival for the Leopards since 1999, which came to Cal Lu in regular season play.
ULV had previously won the past three West Regional Championships.
With Cal Lu defeating La Verne and the sixth seeded Redlands Bulldogs beating the No. 2 seeded Linfield Wildcats from Portland, Ore., the West Regional final was an all-SCIAC match-up.
With Redlands winning game one handily, 30-21, it looked as if Cal Lu might have used up all its luck against La Verne.
However, the Regals were able to come back and win the next three games, 30-27, 30-23, 33-31, to take the match in four.
“It feels amazing. There’s no other word to describe it,” Coverdale said. “This is the most special year. I couldn’t ask for a better senior year.”
The Regals definitely showed their grit Saturday by coming back from a 27-23 deficit in game four to win the game and match, again counting on Plante-Newman and Coverdale to pace the team in kills, with 16 and 23, and clutch plays.
“When both are on, we’re unbeatable,” junior setter Bailey Surratt said. “As a setter I know I can always go to them.”
“The whole post-season has been a new season,” Roesel said. “We keep coming back, we weren’t able to do that during the season. We’ve just had fantastic support.”
The service game was a major point of interest in this game, with Redlands racking up 16 service aces, including five by middle blocker Lizzy Ford.
“Redlands is a very good serving team,” Coverdale said. “They’re known to get lots of aces. By no means is it easy to beat a team like that.”
With the win, the Regals move on to the Sweet 16 in Salem, Va., to take on the winner of the Midwest Regionals, Wisconsin-Whitewater, on Thursday.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Surratt said. “We’re very excited. It’s going to be a lot tougher competition with Whitewater, the winner [of the Division III championship game] last year. We’re going to practice on Monday, then head out and be ready to go.”
Kevin Zeni can be reached at email@example.com.