By Autumn Simon
La Verne Athletics Communication Intern
LA VERNE, Calif. — One run was all they needed.
Trailing 22-18 in the third set, the University of La Verne volleyball team rattled off a 6-2 run to force a deuce, fought off three set points to take a 2-1 lead and carried the momentum into the fourth set to defeat No. 4 Cal Lutheran, 23-25, 25-20, 29-27, 25-22, on Friday night at Sports Science and Athletic Pavilion.
The Leopards jumped out to a 10-3 lead in the fourth set, fought off a late charge from the defending national champions and sealed the win with a direct kill by Cassie Thompson.
"It feels amazing," Thompson said. "To do it here on home court, with this huge crowd, it feels awesome. It feels like one big Leo family and this is the reason we play. We play for moments like this."
La Verne improves to 10-4 overall and 4-2 in the SCIAC. Cal Lutheran falls to 13-4 and 4-2.
It was a massive win for the Leopards with postseason implications. The Leopards beat two top-10 teams in non-conference play but got off to an uneven start in the SCIAC and was in need of a big win.
"This is an important win because for us to be considered for potential NCAA Championship selection, we have to be able to show the selection committee that we deserve to be there," La Verne coach Jenna Panatier said. "And a win over the defending national champions and a top-five team shows that."
The Regals pushed the Leopards to the brink in the all-important third set as a kill by Monica Lundgren gave them a 24-22 edge. But La Verne called a timeout and Panatier implored her players to stay with the game plan.
"I told them to stick with the plan, stay focused and play together," Panatier said. "We've worked really hard this week on believing in what we're doing in the 'now.' Because of that we were able to concentrate on each point without dwelling in the past."
Buoyed by an electric home crowd that kept the spirit high throughout the whole game, Kelsi Robinson knocked down a kill coming out of the timeout and Kaylee Johnson served up an ace to force the deuce. La Verne closed the set on a 3-0 run with kills from Thompson and Tiffany Mancuso.
"This is a good team, we could not just tip and be scared," Thompson said. "We had to be more aggressive and go after the win."
The first set was equally played from both teams but Cal Lutheran's Hope Stewart dominated with eight kills, leading the Regals to win the first set. Stewart also led the game with 17 kills.
But the Leopards picked up the pace quickly in the second set. After hitting .175 as a team in the first set, the Leopards roared back to hit .282 in the second and took a five-point win.
Thompson and Delaney Lynch led the Leopards with 14 kills apiece. And the duo was efficient, combining to hit .362. Robinson was right behind with 13 kills on 33 attempts and she had four blocks, including three solo.
Johnson entered the match in the third set and played a crucial role. She registered four kills, served up two huge aces and recroded 11 digs.
Mancuso passed out a match-high 46 assists and recorded six digs.
The Leopards return to action tomorrow evening at Pomona-Pitzer.