Jihae Oh CMC ’24 and Belen Yudess ’25
The 2021 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s volleyball team had some big shoes to fill this season. After being named the 2017 NCAA DIII champions and the 2019 SCIAC champions, the team had a legacy to live up to. With a 16-0 league record, 26-1 overall record, and a 2021 SCIAC championship under their belt, this year’s Athenas are exceeding expectations.
How does a team become so successful, especially after returning to the court following a year in quarantine? According to the three Scripps students on the team, it all goes back to chemistry and perseverance.
“We hold each other to high expectations, and we make each other better. We improve as individual players and as a team,” said setter Izzy Stolzoff ’25. “Everything we do is a collective effort, and we play together as a team. We always support each other.”
Libero/defensive specialist Ashley Murashige ’25, shared this sentiment.
“We all share the same motivated mindset which contributes to a great environment to play and practice in,” said Murashige. “Our captains and all the upperclassmen and returners did a really good job of creating a team culture where everyone felt welcome and included.”
Evidently, this team’s success did not happen overnight. It took a strong bond and lots of positive energy to navigate adversity. The pandemic was one such challenge.
Instead of blaming quarantine for any setbacks or postponing the team’s development, Murashige reveals that there was an upside to this break. “The year off made me realize that I took volleyball for granted and I was itching to get back on the court again,” she said. “Although this past year was extremely difficult, I think it also helped us in a way because everyone came back with a rejuvenated sense of drive and excitement since we all felt so lucky to be playing again.”
Furthermore, being a part of the CMS Volleyball team helped with the transition back onto campus after a year of online learning. “We came to campus a few weeks early for preseason and during that time I met the girls on the team and found my way around campus,” said Stolzoff. “By the time school started, we were all friends and had adjusted to living on campus.”
The Athenas’ first preseason game was on Sept. 3 against UC Santa Cruz. The Athenas beat the Banana Slugs 3-1, which ‘set’ off their pre-season winning streak. The team played their first league game on Sept. 21 against Whittier College, defeating the Poets 3-0.
The team continued their winning streak despite upcoming challenges, such as the loss of starting libero Makenna Fall CMC ’22 due to an injury. After bringing in libero Dede Carranza CMC ’25, the Athenas continued to dominate their league and secured 3-0 victories over several teams, such as University of La Verne, Occidental College, and most recently, Pomona-Pitzer.
During a mid-season tournament at Calvin University, the Athenas met their match and lost to Calvin University, 1-3. “The most challenging game this season has been […] our away game against Calvin University,” said libero/defensive specialist Emma Thompson ’23. “With a combination of frustrating ref calls, a loud atmosphere, and playing the highest level of competition we had this year, it was the hardest.”
This game definitely left an impression on the Athenas and reminded them of their ability to surpass any upcoming obstacles. “The most challenging game has definitely been Calvin,” said Murashige. “Even though we ended up losing that game, it gave us the opportunity to [play] against another high level team in a completely different environment. We also came back from a ten point deficit in one of the sets which was super exciting and I think it proved our resilience and grit in the face of adversity.”
The next day, the Athenas came back from this loss and beat Ohio Northern University 3-0, proving their dedication, passion, and commitment to the game. This is the first year the Athenas have gone undefeated in league.
Each player is also dominating another game: academics. “We have busy schedules, and we make sure to stay on top of schoolwork and manage our time well,” said Stolzoff.
Thompson said, “Time management is everything […] But also giving myself time to watch a movie or recuperate helps me maintain my focus other times.”
The CMS women’s volleyball team took the next step to a 10th SCIAC championship when they defeated Cal-Lutheran 3-0 on Nov. 4.
The Athenas secured their title as SCIAC champions on Nov. 6 after a thrilling five set match against Chapman University, with a final kill by team captain Jackie Jones CMC ’23.
The CMS women’s volleyball team is now headed to Nationals to try and repeat their victory from 2017.
Although winning SCIAC was an incredible addition to an already remarkable season, the Athenas have also won something much more priceless: life-long friendships. “My favorite part of being on the CMS volleyball team has been meeting my lifelong best friends and having them be there for the most important things in my life,” said Thompson.
Thompson is not alone in believing that the bond these players have is the best part of this team. “My favorite part of being on the team is definitely the friendships I’ve made,” said Murashige. “Even though I have only known everyone for a few months now, we are all so close and I genuinely love them so much. I already have so many fun memories with these girls, and I can’t wait for the next few years.”
Image Source: Anibal Ortiz, CMC Communications Department