Panther red, Regal purple; clashing colors in the stands, bitten nails, bated breath, clenched fists. On Nov. 7, 271 spectators were in attendance at the Harold Hutton Sports Center to watch the women’s volleyball team battle against California Lutheran University.
It was a match spanning approximately two hours, with no shortage of thrills and back-and-forth gameplay. Yet the atmosphere was pressure-packed for an additional reason: this was the first Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) semifinal hosted at Chapman in the program’s history.
“Every year we’re getting better,” said Mavis Lui, junior right-side hitter. “A lot of seniors left last year, so it’s really cool being part of this rebuilding and seeing how much we’ve grown as a team.”
Up they went indeed, in an eventual 3-2 victory over California Lutheran. The Panthers came into this game with 22 wins and just 4 losses – the best record the team had seen in the past five seasons. However, one of those defeats came at the hands of the Regals on Oct. 25. Prior to Thursday night, Lui expressed her eagerness for the rematch.
“Last game, we just beat ourselves,” Lui said of the Oct. 25 loss. “This whole season, our losses have been because we beat ourselves. It comes down to finding the confidence to play how we know how to play.”
The Panthers didn’t beat themselves in this game – but they certainly had to dig themselves out of a hole. Their undefeated record at home throughout the season stood in jeopardy when they found themselves trailing California Lutheran during the first set. However, during the second set, a strategically-called timeout from head coach Mary Cahill not only gave the team a breather, but allowed them to reassess their strategy.
“I just said to go down swinging and be aggressive at every ball and play defense,” Cahill said on the call for the timeout. “We weren’t passing on serves received, so we started to do that and it made for some good balls.”
They exploded out of the break, winning a second set and gained strength as the game progressed. The two teams traded victories during the first four sets, which prepared an anticipating crowd for a decisive fifth set late after the opening serve. Finally, with a blown whistle after an ace against an out-of-rotation California Lutheran, the Panthers’ grit clinched a spot in the Nov. 9 SCIAC finals.
Despite an ultimate 0-3 loss to the Claremont Mudd-Scripps in the team’s final game of the season, the team hopes this milestone of hosting a home playoff will set a new standard for the program.
“It’s huge that we’re getting to the point where we’re starting to host these big tournaments,” said sophomore outside hitter Jessi Lumsden prior to Thursday’s match. “It’s really exciting being involved and being a part of such an amazing team. We’re only going up from here.”