The Occidental women’s volleyball team (9-10 overall, 5-6 SCIAC) had a packed schedule for homecoming weekend, facing off against conference foe Pomona Friday night, before taking on Southwestern University (Texas) and Caltech in a double header Saturday.
Riding a five game win streak, the Tigers were poised to tighten their hold on the fourth and final spot for the SCIAC Championship Tournament when they took the court against the Sagehens. The Occidental squad jumped out to an early 17-10 lead before a string of unforced errors and defensive miscommunication allowed Pomona to climb back and take the set.
Despite a 10 kill effort from outside hitter Claire Strohm (sophomore) and 15 digs from captain Kandace Korver (senior), the Tigers never seemed to find an offensive rhythm, dropping the match in straight sets (3-0).
“Coming of the loss to Pomona Friday night, where we did not play very well, our big emphasis was stepping up our game and having more confidence in ourselves and making sure we did all the little discipline things that we needed to coming into Saturday,” head coach Heather Collins said.
Occidental kicked off their double header Saturday by taking on Southwestern, a team that has only lost two games this entire season (22-2) and is ranked 14th in the nation. The Tigers started off the match slow, losing the first set 25-15 but bounced back and went point for point with the Pirates before losing the second set 25-17.
Cassandra Guidice (sophomore) and Strohm each collected 10 kills, while setter Sarah Beene (senior) recorded 22 assists and only one error in the match.
However, Occidental’s offensive output was not enough to overcome Southwestern as the Texan team claimed the third and final set to win the match 3-0.
Four hours after the conclusion of their match with the Pirates, the Tigers made their way back onto the court for the back end of their double header against SCIAC opponent Caltech.
“After the 3-0 defeat against Southwestern, we realized that we needed to improve our overall court discipline and play with a greater sense of urgency,” Korver said.
Despite the back-to-back losses, the Occidental team retained their composure and quickly cruised to a 25-13 first set victory, with Guidice collecting five of her six kills of the match in the first game.
Offensively the Tigers could do little wrong, recording six service aces and hitting 41 kills with a .360 kill percent.
Defensively, Amanda Herold (sophomore) and Korver led the way, picking up 13 and 12 digs respectively.
“We made a lot of changes between the Southwestern game and the Caltech game,” Herold said. “First off, we went into the Caltech game mentally prepared. We had already played them before and we had a pretty good scouting report on them and we knew what to expect. Offensively, we placed our shots better and we found the holes on the court and defensively we were very scrappy.”
After a shaky start to the season, the young Occidental team seems to be hitting its stride at just the right moment.
“We really started to see a change in our play a few weeks ago when we played Cal Lutheran at home, and even though we lost, we played a lot better and it seemed that our team chemistry was starting to gel,” Collins said. “That is when we started to see it and it has kind of been on an upward trend since then.”
According to Korver, the top three teams have secured their spots in the SCIAC playoffs. She said the Tigers are now eyeing the fourth spot, but will face tough competition from Chapman and Whittier. All three squads are within a half game of each other with four games left in the season.
“We really want to focus on these last few games and play our hearts out so that we can clench that playoff spot,” Korver said.
Occidental will attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive this Friday night in Rush Gymnasium when they take on conference opponent Whittier at 7:30 p.m. In addition to the playoff implication, this Friday night’s game also marks the last home game and Senior Night for the volleyball team.