Women’s volleyball extends win streak to seven in five-set thriller

As soon as the ball hit the floor, Chapman’s Hutton Sports Center erupted. Junior outside hitter Lindsey Johnson had just killed off the final point of a taxing fifth set, giving Chapman a victory that had seemed unlikely earlier in the match.

She dropped to her knees and raised her fists in the air as the entire volleyball team swarmed her on the court. The Chapman crowd, which provided huge support in the latter stages of the match, sounded off with a near-deafening celebration of the players’ efforts.

The excitement was a result of Chapman’s seventh straight win Sept. 23, which came against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the No. 7 nationally ranked women’s volleyball team in Division III. The win marks the team’s longest win streak since 2012 and leaves Chapman, the only remaining undefeated team in the conference, sitting atop the standings.

The win came in a final, 48-point set during which the lead changed six times and saw 14 match points – seven from each team. It ended with an assertive kill from Johnson, who had a team-high of 20 kills.

“That was awesome,” Johnson said. “Finally, it was over, because that set went forever. I really wasn’t too nervous because whenever we go to set five, we always win. We kind of have a joke in our team that we always win set five because we run so many sprints, so we’re never tired.”

Junior outside hitter Lindsay Johnson winds up for a kill against Claremont Sept. 23. Photo by Ian Craddock

The fifth and final set, which typically ends whenever the first team reaches 15 points and wins by two, saw an additional 19 points played after Chapman reached 15.

The win is Chapman’s third fifth-set win this season. The Panthers have yet to lose a match that has gone five sets.

“We’ve played a lot of set fives and our saying is we don’t lose set five,” said junior outside hitter Courtney Justus. “I had confidence in our team and I feel like we had a lot of momentum going into that fifth set, so I don’t think there were a lot of nerves as much as there was just confidence.”

The high of Chapman’s match-winning point was a far cry from early on in the match, when Chapman found itself, with the home crowd quieted, in a two-set hole. Late in the third set, Chapman (10-3, 4-0 in-conference) again trailed Claremont (9-5, 2-1 in-conference), down 21-16. The visitors were four points away from seeing out the victory when suddenly, Chapman created a huge shift in momentum.

The Panthers scored nine straight points, the longest streak of the game by either team. When Chapman tied the game up at 21, the home crowd erupted from silence, shaking the bleachers with excitement.

Chapman’s women’s volleyball team surrounds junior outside hitter Lindsey Johnson after defeating No. 7 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Sept. 24. Photo by Jake Hutchinson

“(The crowd) really helps, for sure,” Johnson said. “It helps drive our energy, too. You can only create so much energy as a team. So to have the crowd going is awesome. It definitely helps.”

Justus said that Chapman may have underestimated itself earlier in the game due to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps’s reputation.

“Claremont is a good team, they’re ranked,” Justus said. “I think we underestimated our abilities at first and as the game progressed, we realized that we could take this game.”

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps head coach Kurt Vlasich credited Chapman for adjusting to its offense as the game progressed.

“We were kind of playing ping-pong ball tonight. We didn’t play our normal, consistent game,” Vlasich said. “I think (Chapman) made some good adjustments defensively and we couldn’t put anything away on the outside, so we had to stick to our middle and our right side attack and they keyed in on that, and we weren’t able to execute.”

Vlasich was given a yellow card by the head referee Kim Pickerill, for arguing a “ball-handling error” called on Claremont-Mudd-Scripps’s senior defensive specialist, Mikena Werner. The call gave Chapman its 10th point and extended its lead in the fifth set. Vlasich said the referee was inconsistent in his decisions.

“The referee called a double (touch) in a situation, where it was a double, but he hadn’t called any all night on either team, so at that point, it’s the fifth set, (it would have been) nine all,” Vlasich said. “Usually, referees know not to take the initiative there, but I thought it was a pretty bad call at that point in the match.”

Head coach Mary Cahill argued with referee Ron Stahl after Chapman lost the second set, but a double touch, or ball-handling error, was only called in the one instance against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

“Their libero is a very good player, but I thought she was getting away with (ball-handling),” Cahill said. “And then the referee called a crucial one in that last set.”

Chapman’s next match will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 26, when Chapman travels to the University of La Verne (9-2, 3-1 in-conference), whose only conference loss was to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Sept. 22.

“We play La Verne on Tuesday, so that’ll be awesome, because Claremont beat La Verne in three sets,” Johnson said. “They got whooped, so hopefully they’re down in the dumps. We know we’re a good team, so I feel like we’re going to win.”

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