Photo by Joe Fusco/d3photography.com
RICHARDSON, Texas — Kelsi Robinson and Tiffany Mancuso played like two of the best players in the country and the No. 19 La Verne volleyball team grabbed a 2-1 set lead against No. 7 Southwestern (Texas).
But the Leopards lost the momentum and dropped the last two sets, falling, 25-19, 22-25, 24-26, 25-21, 15-10, in the first round of the NCAA Championship on Friday at UT Dallas Activity Center.
The Leopards finish the season 22-7 overall.
Robinson registered a match-high 20 kills on .333 hitting and collected six blocks while Mancuso dished out 51 assists and recorded 10 digs. But the efforts weren't enough to overcome the Pirates' depth. Four different Pirates recorded at least 10 kills each and Nikki Welch and and Sydney Rochelle combined to hand out 57 assists.
"Southwestern played a great game and they figured out how to access the things they needed to do be successful," La Verne coach Jenna Panatier said. "When you're going against a seasoned, excellent coach like [Southwestern's] Don Flora, you have to make sure that you're taking care of the things you need to take care of as a team."
One of the big storylines for the match was Flora coaching against his former team for the first time. Flora coached the Leopards from 1998-2008, and during that time, he led the team to the 2001 NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Championship and won nine consecutive SCIAC championships from 2000-08.
"It's surreal--there is just a surreal, funny feel to it," Flora said of going up against his old team. "I look over [to the La Verne bench] and I wore that jersey, that hat and that sweatshirt and it's my roots. ... So I have a real love for the institution but I also know that it's an institution that I'm no longer with so you put your eyes on the task, tuck your ears back and we want to go compete."
Southwestern took the first set with relative ease, using a 7-1 run to take an 18-14 lead and holding it the rest of the way.
The Leopards came back out with a vengeance in the second set, grabbing a 19-9 edge before the Pirates responded with a big 10-1 run to make it a game. But La Verne went 5-for-5 in attacking attempts the rest of the way and claimed the set.
The third set played out much like the second. A Kelsie Sievers kill gave the Leopards a 22-15 lead before the Pirates rattled off seven unanswered points to tie the game. Southwestern went on to take a 24-23 lead but Robinson knocked down two straight kills to fight off the set point and Kirby Kincannon hit into an error to give the set to the Leopards.
The Leopards weren't able to build an early cushion in the fourth and it cost them as Southwestern ripped off another big run--eight unanswered--to take a 22-15 lead and never looked back. La Verne seemed to be bouncing back in the decisive fifth set as it took a 6-3 lead but the Pirates grabbed the next five points to stake out to a 8-6 lead at the turn and held on.
Southwestern moves to 31-4. Piper Sisemore led the Pirates with 16 kills and Jamison Duck was right behind with 15.