Photo: Bob Paz
PASADENA (Oct. 18, 2019) – The Caltech volleyball team came out on the winning end of a marathon match on Friday evening, defeating Occidental College 3-2 (25-20, 25-20, 22-25, 25-27, 15-13) to secure the program's first-ever season sweep of a SCIAC opponent. The victory also marks the first time the Beavers have won back-to-back SCIAC games as well as the first 10-win season under Head Coach Tom Gardner.
"It's been a long time in the making," Gardner said. "This year, everyone seems to step up when they're called upon. We have depth and we have a lot of people who are confident in their abilities. Obviously we want to keep it going this year and give ourselves plenty of momentum going into next year. This needs to be the way of Caltech volleyball from now on."
While senior outside hitter Lauren Li (Bellaire, Texas / Bellaire) dominated the match with 18 kills and a .293 hitting percentage, each Beaver seemed to have their moments against the Tigers in different spots. Sophomore Alexandra Klipfel (Agua Dulce, Calif. / Saugus) hit .280 and played a key role in Caltech's 2-0 start to the match. Five of her 10 kills came in the second set and the sophomore managed to carry her momentum late into the match after Gardner and his staff made the necessary adjustments to ride the hot hand. Klipfel and Li were just two of four Beavers to finish the match in double-digit kills. Sophomore Sydney Richardson (Granite Bay, Calif. / Roseville) came away with 15 kills while freshman Dallas Taylor (Phoenix, Ariz. / Saguaro) picked up 10 kills thanks to her team-leading .318 percentage.
The Beavers began to lose their footing in the later sets, being forced to play catch-up in the third and fourth frames. Slowly but surely, the home team succeeded in making both sets competitive in front of an Orange Out crowd of more than 150 fans and even got to match point in the fourth set before the Tigers dug deep and came out on top to force the fifth and deciding set.
"Our message to the team was, 'what was our goal here,'" Gardner said. "Do you believe in yourselves? Do you believe in your teammates? It wasn't necessarily one message that got through but we thankfully found our confidence and relied on trust in the end, which is so crucial in a team sport like this. There needs to be trust that everybody is going to do their job and it all came together when we needed it to."
Caltech endured another rocky start in the fifth set with Oxy getting off to a 5-2 lead, though it wasn't until the Tigers reached 10 points the Beavers finally began to turn things around. Coming out of a timeout at 10-7, the home team railed off three straight points and any one of which could be pointed to as the one that ultimately turned the tide. First, Li delivered an aggressive kill, which junior Krystyna Maruszko (Redondo Beach, Calif. / Marymount) followed up on with a service ace that ricocheted off the netting and into the Tigers' front court. Occidental tried to reset the momentum with a timeout but Taylor delivered a perfectly-timed block to even the match at 10. From there, the entire buliding began to believe. Kills from Klipfel and Richardson capped an 8-2 Caltech run to end the match and give the home team one of the biggest victories in the history of the program to date. Maruszko once again crossed 50 assists with 51 on Friday, while sophomore libero Megan Wang (Henderson, Nev. / Advanced Technologies Academy) led the defensive effort with a team-best 28 digs, one of three players to have at least 10.
Gardner and the Beavers will look to make it an unprecedented three-straight SCIAC wins when they travel to the University of Redlands on Saturday, Oct. 19.