THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The momentum shift was sudden.
The Cal Lutheran women's volleyball team seemed to be cruising to another Elite Eight appearance, having captured the first set and gaining a sizable lead in the second.
But seventh-ranked CLU couldn't hold on, losing to No. 12 Puget Sound 14-25, 26-24, 25-21, 27-25 in the NCAA Division III West Regional final on Sunday afternoon at Gilbert Arena.
As Puget Sound (22-5) prepared to make travel plans toHolland, Mich., CLU (29-5) prepared for a longer than expected off-season.
"I thought we had a good start, but just kind of let it go a little bit there," CLU head coach Kellee Roesel said. "We had too many unforced errors and tried to do too many things. I told this team all year long that the only team that could beat us is us, and unfortunately we beat ourselves today. Not to take anything away from Puget Sound."
CLU appeared to have everything working in the first set, with a strong defense and a diversified offensive attack.
The Regals jumped to a 4-1 lead and expanded it to 17-7 on a powerful kill by Kylie McLogan.
CLU closed out the set when Lesley Smith rose high alongside McLogan for a block.
The Regals got off to another quick start in the second set, taking a 4-0 lead and pushing it to 10-3.
But Puget Sound mounted a rally to tie the set 20-20 on an ace by Jenni Brehove, and began gaining confidence. The Loggers took their first lead at 23-22 when a kill by Pearson went long.
CLU managed to fend off one set point, but couldn't fight off a second as McLogan's kill attempt went into the net.
"I think maybe the first set got into our heads a little bit and we let off a little in the second set and let them in," CLU freshman Pua Mo'okini-Oliveira said. "We fought as hard as we could to get it back, but we couldn't get it going as strong again."
CLU once again captured the first four points in the third set, but failed to hold the lead for long and never recovered.
Puget Sound bucked the trend in the fourth set, winning four of the first five points. But CLU recovered and went ahead 11-7 on a kill by freshman Allie Eason.
Puget Sound tied it 22-22 on the point of the match that featured several great defensive plays during an extended rally.
The Regals staved off three match points before Puget Sound clinched the regional title when Emily Convery blocked Eason's kill attempt.
"We had confidence going into this match. Even when we got down we always focused on the goals we had set," said Eason, a Buena High graduate. "We wanted to keep fighting and keep working because we knew we could do it. We just have such strong team chemistry, we never want to give up."
Eason finished with 16 kills on 36 swings and 19 digs.McLogan had 24 kills and 15 digs. Both were selected to the regional all-tournament team.
Jena Chavez had 52 assists for CLU and senior Rachel Smith, a Newbury Park High graduate, closed her career with 24 digs.
Regional Most Valuable Player Jackie Harvey led Puget Sound with 16 kills.
After Puget Sound secured the upset, CLU watched the Loggers celebrate with a regional championship trophy CLU earned last season.
But the future appears bright for the three-time defending SCIAC champions, with many underclassmen contributing to this season's run.
"Our young kids did great. I just feel bad for our seniors," Roesel said. "I told them I know they are disappointed, but the only reason they need to be upset is because they don't get to play with these girls every day anymore. But if they looked up in the stands they could see all our former players sitting there, so we will never lose them."