Seeing them exhausted and unable to stand, senior middle blocker Kayla Cribbs ended UC Santa Cruz’s suffering with one final strike, bringing a 3-0 victory for the women’s volleyball team Friday night.
After a 3-0 loss against Cal Lutheran Oct. 16, the Leopards regained motivation by defeating the Banana Slugs with a sweep of their own at Frantz Athletic Court.
Head coach Jenna Panatier saw the Leopards had a few mishaps in their previous match but that later dissolved when they got back into rhythm and remained consistent, holding the Banana Slugs to a .078 hitting percentage.
“We just ran our system,” Panatier said. “The girls do well when they run their system.”
There were moments where the Leopards and Banana Slugs faced tough tie-breakers in the first set—15-15, 20-20, 25-25—but defensive blocks from senior middle blocker Catie Logan and freshman outside hitter Brittany Yaxley kept them alive, winning the first set, 29-27.
“We focused on their hit tendencies,” Logan said. “We did not come out too strong in the first set and we just had to get it done.”
“We worked on our blocks during practice and we take pride in our great defense,” she said.
The Banana Slugs’ defense started to wake up in the beginning of the second set, with senior middle blocker Helen Milne and junior outside hitter Annie Reyes-Ortiz defending a 2-1 lead.
That momentum built when the Banana Slugs were ahead 4-2; however, that changed when senior setter Kendall Kraiss did some trick plays.
Whether the Banana Slugs covered one side or the whole court, Kraiss managed to strike the ball down before they had time to react.
While she made it look easy, it was clear it took a toll on the Banana Slugs as they dived and rolled on the court, stunned by the Leopards’ offense.
“I usually do not plan it,” Kraiss said. “I just get the ball over the net.”
The stadium never stopped cheering for the Leopards, from the motivating chants from the men’s water polo team to students who came after rushing doing several errands.
When the Leopards were faced with another tie-showdown in the second set, 14-14, that was when Kraiss did another trick maneuver, making everyone chant: U-L-V.
It seemed like nothing was going stop the Leopards, where Cribbs finished the second set, 25-21.
“It was just opportunity,” Kraiss said. “The way everything was played out really helped us.”
Noticing the Banana Slugs were exhausted and disorganized, including when senior setter Melissa Stoll received a technical for expressing her frustration with her team, the Leopards were focused and finished their third set.
Despite the Banana Slugs’ sluggish reaction time, they were able to fight within a one point margin with the Leopards leading, 8-7.
With more trick plays from Kraiss and Yaxley, along with a defensive block from Cribbs, that jumpstarted the Leopards lead, 18-12.
Still, the Banana Slugs managed to make seven consecutive points while the Leopards made one point, 19-19.
The crowd kept cheering and while Panatier let the Leopards run their system. They made six consecutive points with Cribbs making the final strike, 25-19.
“It was awesome,” Cribbs said. “All the thanks go to our defense for picking up the ball and allowing me to hit it.”
With a 3-0 win over Caltech on Tuesday, the Leopards are now 19-4 overall and 11-3 in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
They are ranked third in conference behind Chapman and Cal Lutheran, who are tied for first.
They now face a double-header against Whittier, 1 p.m., and Claremont-Mudds-Scripps, 7 p.m., tomorrow at Frantz Athletic Court, waiting for the crowd to chant: U-L-V.
Alex Forbess can be reached at email@example.com.