Leopards come up short in final

The University of La Verne’s bid for a fourth national championship
in women’s volleyball came up just short as the Leopards fell to
Emory University (Ga.) 3-1 (16-25, 25-21, 25-17, 25-22) in the
Division III title match Saturday at the Shirk Center on the campus
of Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington, Ill.

La Verne (27-3) came into the tournament ranked No. 4 nationally but
seeded second in the field. The Leopards earned a spot in the final
with a dramatic 3-2 win over No. 1 Juniata in Friday’s semifinal.

Coach Don Flora was thrilled with his team’s showing. The Leopards
have just two seniors and started four new players this season.

“It’s a little hard to see the forest through the trees right now,”
he said. “But the forest is planted and it’s growing well.”

La Verne hit .224 on the night and was again led by senior Brianna
Gonzales with 18 kills. Junior Crista Jones added 16 but no other
Leopard had more than three.

The Leopards came out hot, hitting .345 in an opening game they
dominated. It was even at 5-all but La Verne went on a 14-4 run with
that stretch including four kills by Gonzales, three by Jones and two
service aces by Chelsea Sleight. It later ended on a winner by Anna
Calmer.

“We started out real clean. It was fun to watch,” Flora added. “We
have talked about calm and intensity and here we were in a national
championship and the girls showed so much poise.”

La Verne led the second set 12-11 on a kill by Gonzales but the
Eagles eventually went ahead 13-12 on a service ace by Kelsey Kryston
and didn’t trail again. They led by as many as four at 23-19 and at
24-20 and evened the match at one set each on a winner by Amelia
McCall.

Emory (35-6) also took the third game. Up 11-9 the Eagles tallied
five of the next six points and going up 16-10 on a spike by senior
Maggie Baird. The Leopards hit just .087 in the game and were not in
striking distance again.

The fourth game was tight the entire way. It was even at 22 but the
Eagles went up on kill by Maggie Baird. They got their first match
point on senior Dani Huffman’s block of a spike by Jones. Baird then
converted on Emory’s first match point.

It was the second meeting this season between the two teams. Emory
defeated La Verne 3-2 in a tournament the Leopards hosted at the
Frantz Athletic Court on Oct 11.

It was the first national title for Emory which outlasted No. 8 Ohio
Northern 3-2 in Friday’s semifinal.

Huffman was named tournament MVP. Gonzales and Jones also made the
all-tournament team.