Photo by Michael Wong
PASADENA, Calif. (Nov. 1, 2016) – The Caltech volleyball team avenged a 3-1 season-opening loss against West Coast Baptist College on Tuesday night, sweeping the Eagles in the season finale on Senior Night in Braun Gymnasium. Freshman Ellie Walker (Minneapolis, Minn. / Blake School) fueled the offense with 31 assists while both Alexa Lauinger (Ortonville, Mich. / Brandon) and Lauren Li (Bellaire, Texas / Bellaire) closed out their rookie campaigns with double-doubles.
The win marked the third straight year the Beavers have sent off their senior class with a victory, this time bidding farewell to Suzannah Osekowsky (Saratoga, Calif. / Saratoga) and Ker Lee Yap (Seattle, Wash. / Eastlake).
The Beavers took advantage of Eagles mistakes early to lead 15-8 in the first set, forcing a West Coast Baptist timeout. Caltech maintained control and won the first set, 25-14, behind a balanced offense that saw four players register at least two kills. The Eagles kept it close in the beginning of the second set, tying the game at 6-6. Caltech went on to score nearly two points for every one WCBC notched, eventually claiming a 25-16 win.
West Coast Baptist refused to give in despite the two-set deficit, taking the lead at 3-2 in the third and reclaiming it at 10-8. The Beavers accepted the challenge, firing back with eight unanswered points as junior Mayra Melendez (Salinas, Calif. / York) held serve. The teams traded short runs until the Eagles rattled off six straight points, with four coming on Beavers errors, to tie the set at 21-21. Freshman Julia Fay (Oakland, Calif. / Coll. Prep School) stepped up to notch back-to-back kills and Li smacked another to give Caltech to match point, but WCBC staged one final rally effort with consecutive points via blocks to pull within one at 24-23. Unfazed, Walker set Li for the deciding kill, clinching the Beavers' third victory of the season.
Li paced the beavers in both kills (13) and digs (12), while Lauinger recorded 10 of each with three emergency assists and a team-high .381 hitting percentage (among those with more than five attacks). Sophomore Sakthi Vetrivel (Redmond, Wash. / Overlake) notched eight kills, six digs and two assists while Fay, Walker, Osekowsky and sophomore Claudia Canamas (West Palm Beach, Fla. / Oxbridge Acad.) rounded out the offense with an absurd .636 collective hitting percentage.
Head Coach Tom Gardner's squad showed tremendous improvement even after last year's major step forward as a program. The 2016 team registered 93 more kills on 111 more assists and dug 175 more balls than the 2015 squad, culminating in nearly a three-point improvement per match. The 513 kills, 479 assists and 945 digs all rank second in single-season program history.
Individually, Lauinger recorded the third-most kills (181) and second-most digs (269) in single-season history, while Li was not far behind in sixth (161) and fourth (225), respectively. Vetrivel fell just short of the 100-kill mark, which would likely have been the first such occurrence in program history. Walker placed second on the single-season assists list with 395 and topped the 100-dig plateau, along with Melendez.