Photo: Noelle Davis
PASADENA (Sept. 21, 2019) – A team performance for the ages earned the Caltech women's volleyball team a 3-1 victory in its 2019 SCIAC opener against Whittier College for the second conference win in the history of the program.
As scholars and scholar-athletes began to make their way back to campus for the fall semester, the Beavers came to life in front of a lively crowd and jumped on the visiting Poets with a 7-2 opening run. After the visitors clawed their way back, Caltech's veteran players took the initiative. The Beavers ended the first set with a pair of kills from junior Krystyna Maruszko (Redondo Beach, Calif. / Marymount) and senior Lauren Li (Bellaire, Texas / Bellaire) to give the home team the early edge.
"The fact that we started so strong makes me optimistic moving forward," Head Coach Tom Gardner said. "Our team was very well prepared and played well together from the jump."
The Beavers replicated their first set success in the second frame, this time jumping out to a 7-1 run to put the pressure on the Poets. While the visitors once again worked their way back into the set late, Caltech managed to assume late control thanks to a few key points. Li painted the line with an athletic kill to give her side a 23-21 advantage and freshman Dallas Taylor (Phoenix, Ariz. / Saguaro) eventually closed things out with a powerful kill to give the Beavers a commanding 2-0 lead heading into the third frame. While the Beavers slipped with a lackluster third set, their experience would later shine through with the victory still in reach at the start of the fourth. This time, the Beavers and Poets traded blows up until Caltech forced a Whittier timeout at 18-all with high stakes well in reach for both teams.
"The message was to really just keep playing the way we're capable of while setting the pace early in points," Gardner said. "We weren't too worried about specific situations and did all the things we needed to do to execute, whether it was a good pass or dig before transitioning into some offense."
Caltech took a patient approach to the final 10 points of the match, taking what the opposition afforded them while winning some of the longest rallies of the contest. The Beavers' final three points came from Whittier errors with Li, along with freshman Charley Lafayette (Toronto, Ontario, Can. / Branksome Hall) putting a stamp on the win with an assisted block on match point. Li finished the night with 11 kills and three assisted blocks while Lafayette gave the Poets fits with six assisted blocks of her own. Caltech's proficiency in the middle block has quickly become a strength of this year's team, as evident in the Beavers outpacing the Poets 3:1 in total blocks.
Ultimately, the Beavers managed to keep their cool when it mattered most and showed themselves to be a product of their trials over the past two years since winning their last SCIAC game.
"In volleyball, the first point and the last point are the same," Gardner said. "You don't need to put additional pressure on yourselves to score a point at 24 any more than you do at one. It comes down to each player doing their job in a given situation and executing like we know they're capable of."
Maruszko had a standout performance of her own and stuffed the stat sheet with 32 assists, 12 digs and six kills. Taylor finished the match hitting .353 as the team's most efficient offensive player and sophomore libero Megan Wang (Henderson, Nev. / Advanced Technologies Academy) added 29 digs to her team-leading total of 151 through nine games. Meanwhile, Maruszko upped her assist count to 277 and is already 70 away from fifth on the single-season list.
Gardner and the Beavers will look to see if their momentum can continue through the weekend when they travel to Chapman University on Saturday for a 2 p.m. clash.