VU pads winning streak

COSTA MESA — Few things can be more precious than those that are slipping away.

With a 3-4 Golden State Athletic Conference record and only fewer than a dozen matches left before turning in their uniforms for good, seven seniors on the Vanguard University women's volleyball team decided that a sense of urgency would be a terrible thing to waste.

So, the veteran contingent, including six players who play a lot in first-year coach Eryn Leja's competition-based rotation, decided after an Oct. 4 loss at Azusa Pacific that there was no time like the present.

"The seniors got together and decided that we wanted to change things and that we needed to be a winning program," Vanguard senior Jamie Heenan said.

After the seniors met, they brought the rest of the players and coaches on board. And after a 25-18, 25-16, 25-19 home sweep of Golden State Athletic Conference rival Westmont on Saturday that upped the Lions' winning streak to five matches, the bandwagon is steadily adding members.

Immediately following the momentous meetings, the Lions knocked off then-No. 6-ranked Fresno Pacific, winning in Fresno for the first time in 18 years.

That was the first in the victory string that has seen the Lions improve to 19-8, 8-4 in conference, and earn a season-best No. 11 national ranking.

"I think we all stepped up with leadership on the court," Heenan, a Newport Harbor High product, said of the aftermath of the seniors' collective input. "Not only the captains, but everyone."

Doing things by committee is a recurring theme with this group, which relies on offensive balance and a growing focus and determination to improve execution.

"I don't think there is any one outstanding player that has the team on her shoulders," said Leja, a former assistant who was elevated when Marissa Booker left to take over the girls' program at Corona del Mar High. "I think what defines this team, this year, is it is getting it done as a team."

Heenan, who had a match-best 13 kills and hit .458 to go with five digs and one service ace, agreed with her coach.

"We all have our roles and we are executing right now, so it's going well," Heenan said.

Senior KaUwila Lavea came off the bench to produce nine kills.

Senior setter Alex Leja, the coach's younger sister, distributed 18 assists and had two aces, while senior libero Lisa Morgan led the team with 15 digs.

Seniors Caitlin Segert (five kills), and Kristen Markowitz (three block assists and one kill) also aided the Vanguard cause that included eight kills from junior Stevie Hurlbirt and six block assists and one solo block by freshman middle blocker Kendall Haldi.

Freshman Carly Maxwell chipped in 11 assists, seven digs and two more of the Lions' eight aces — with just three service errors— to help them continue their climb in the GSAC standings.

Vanguard remains in fourth place behind Concordia (12-0 in conference), Azusa Pacific (9-3) and Fresno Pacific (9-3) with six conference regular-season matches left.

Vanguard will hope to avenge a five-game loss at home to Concordia when it visits the Eagles in the regular-season finale on Nov. 12. Vanguard plays host to APU on Nov. 1 and FPU on Nov. 5.

"Us coaches kept telling [the players] that the big win was coming and that they've got to believe it would be there," Eryn Leja said. "We thought that once they got that big one, they were going to know what it feels like and they were just going to want more. They won that big one and they got that feeling and now they know what they want to achieve and they know they can achieve it."

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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