PANTHERS UNLEASHED: Every Point Matters
Playing with a purpose. Every point matters. A chip on our shoulder. These may be cliché but the sayings have never held truer for the Chapman University women's volleyball team, especially its seniors.
Since Chapman became eligible to win SCIAC championships in the 2013-14 season, every team with a top-4 tournament has qualified. However, the volleyball team did so in that first season but hasn't since. For the two four-year seniors on the team, Abby Smith and Cheri Raymundo, that means a postseason trip has never been a part of their season.
"It's always something in the back on my mind because it's really frustrating," a frustrated yet determined Smith voiced before practice on Tuesday. "We came on to a team that expected to go to the tournament because they already had. Now, I haven't gone once and that's really frustrating."
Talk to Smith, Raymundo or Kylie Cooke (who transferred to Chapman from La Verne as a sophomore in 2015) and the frustration is visible. As the conversation continues, that frustration turns to determination. It turns to hope, to a certain edge, to a conviction that this year is the year.
"I think every single senior recognizes the potential that this team has," Smith continued. A point that has been echoed throughout the early season by Raymundo, Cooke and even head coach Mary Cahill.
"I think that this is a great year for us to make it and its super attainable for us," added Cooke. "I think everyone can taste it since it was so close last year."
The Panthers went 7-9 in 2014 and duplicated that record in 2015, finishing in fifth both years. While Chapman was on the doorstep of a tournament berth (top-4 in the conference), it was the 2016 finish that's left the bitterest of tastes.
In 2016, Chapman goes 8-8 in the SCIAC. So does Pomona-Pitzer. Both teams won their home game against the other. Still tied. Both teams swept the other. Tied through two tiebreakers. What's next? Now, it varies from other sports in the SCIAC and goes to points against each other.
Chapman swept the Sagehens at home 25-22, 29-27, 26-24. The type of nailbiting match that has everyone exhaling when the match is over. The rematch in Claremont wasn't so close. Pomona-Pitzer ran away with a 25-17, 25-19, 25-11 win. Edge: Pomona-Pizer.
Yes, Chapman lost out on a head-to-head points tiebreaker.
"It was very bitter…not getting it was heartbreaking. I think that everyone had that same feeling," Cooke lamented but quickly turned toward a hopeful future. "This next year is going to be our year. We're all coming back and we've all worked together. We're going to be the best we've been in a couple years."
With that bitter taste consuming them, the Panthers transitioned into the offseason. Still bitter. Then came the summer months. Yep, still bitter. Then, fall camp. Is the bitter taste getting stronger?
It might be but it's no longer consuming. It's motivating the whole team, seniors and newcomers alike. It's driving them forward. They reached the precipice and now just have to take that last step to get back to the Promised Land.
"It just makes the urgency even greater. Every point actually matters," Raymundo revealed about the team's mentality. "Since we've experienced that, we are hustling on every point."
The journey to erase last year's bitter memory (and three years of missing out) begins at home on Friday when the Panthers host Whittier. For the team, especially the seniors, the goal is no different. Their eyes are set on the feat that has narrowly escaped them the past three years
"I think that everyone is fed up with being just a step behind," Smith said. "You get to a certain point where it's just like, 'Let's go!' Everyone understands the goal and is willing to put everything out there on the court. I think that's going to be consistent through this season."
"Every year we put it down as a goal. Now that we know we can get there, we're going to work even harder to make it," Raymundo added. "We don't want to end the season again thinking, 'What could have been?' As seniors, we only have one more chance so we're going to give it our all so we can leave with no regrets."
By Steven Olveda
Sports Information Director