La Verne, which fell from No. 4 to No. 6 in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, lost at the Rains Center on Saturday to Juniata again, 3-1 in a match that followed a 3-1 loss to Cal Lutheran, the program’s first conference defeat since a forfeit to the same Cal Lutheran program in 2001. That run has coincided with a national championship in 2001 and five consecutive SCIAC titles. Now that it has ended like some around the conference suspected it might with the Leopards’ loss of six graduating seniors teams see an opening come the second round of conference play, which begins for La Verne next Tuesday night at Occidental. “It just shows we’ve got some strong teams in the conference,” said Claremont-Mudd-Scripps coach Dianna Graves, whose team had a 4-3 mark in conference play. “I don’t think it takes anything away from La Verne. They are still an outstanding national power, and they will continue to be. But it’s exciting to see other teams in the conference giving them a run.” That, of course, is a challenge that La Verne looks to meet head on. “This is our chance to persevere,” junior Kimberly Fitzsimmons said. “It seems like people say it’s a rebuilding year, but it’s not. We have awesome girls, and they play well.” “We like to compete, and we like to play tough teams,” Flora said. “We want to play the best in the country.” The latest round of “competing against tough teams” gave the Leopards (6-1, 11-5) back-to-back losses for the first time since a trip to a prestigious tournament in Missouri, one that ended a 56-game unbeaten run through conference and another giving La Verne its second loss to No. 2 Juniata (Pa.) this season. SISTER ACT Sibling rivalry took another step Saturday night at the Rains Center. When Juniata (17-1) rolled into Claremont, it brought more than just one of the best Division III programs in the nation into the gymnasium. The Eagles brought along Fitzsimmons’ younger sister Kristi, a freshman out of Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona. Needless to say, the pregame barbs and postgame teasing flowed freely. “We’re very competitive,” Kristi Fitzsimmons said after Juniata withstood several rallies from La Verne in a 3-1 win. “We were (teasing each other) before the game.” Kristi Fitzsimmons wasn’t on the court for Juniata’s earlier victory over La Verne in a tournament. She was on Saturday, with more than 40 friends and family in attendance, many of whom abandoned firm allegiances. “My mom said she was rooting for her girls,” said Kimberly Fitzsimmons, who decided to transfer from Mt. SAC after her sophomore season at the same time her sister made Juniata her school of choice. Another Fitzsimmons, Keri, is a sophomore in the Diamond Ranch volleyball program. BEST IN THE WEST The Cal Poly Pomona women’s volleyball team upped its record start to the 2005 season with its 17th consecutive win, a convincing sweep of Cal State Dominguez Hills last week (30-19, 30-20, 30-22) and moved to No. 8 in the country in the latest AVCA Division II poll. Better than that, and even better than the Broncos the division’s lone undefeated team finally picking up a solitary first-place vote, was the outcome of the first regional poll: Cal Poly Pomona is ranked No. 1 in the Pacific Region, ahead of Cal State L.A. and Cal State San Bernardino, and is in the driver’s seat to play host come regionals. The Broncos take their show on the road this week, with matches against Cal State Stanislaus on Friday and Chico State on Saturday. Next week, Cal Poly Pomona hosts No. 13 Cal State L.A., the No. 2 team in the region, and No. 25 Cal State Bakersfield, ranked eighth in the region. IN THE POOL Division III powerhouse Johns Hopkins and Division I Santa Clara were the lone teams to run through the 13th Annual Claremont Convergence Tournament over the weekend with a perfect four-game slate. La Verne (11-6) defeated Brown, Washington & Jefferson, and George Washington and lost to Harvard. Pomona-Pitzer (6-8) defeated Chaminade, Harvard and BYU-Hawaii and fell to Johns Hopkins. And CMS (6-9) defeated Washington & Jefferson and lost to Cal Lutheran, Johns Hopkins and Santa Clara. SCIAC competition opens on Saturday, with CMS at Redlands (7-8), La Verne at Cal Lutheran and Pomona-Pitzer at Occidental (3-9). THIS AND THAT No one’s running away with the women’s soccer crown in the SCIAC. Pomona-Pitzer (4-1-1) has emerged as the earlier leader in conference play, but CMS (4-2), Redlands (3-2-1), La Verne (3-2-1) and Occidental (3-2-1) are all within two points. On the men’s side, Redlands (6-0-1) is unbeaten in conference action. Cal Lutheran (5-1-1) and La Verne (4-1-2) are within striking distance, and CMS (3-3-1) and Pomona-Pitzer (2-2-3) both sit six points behind the Bulldogs. … Cal Poly Pomona’s men’s soccer team welcomed the sight of keeper Tim Sisk back in goal last week. Returning from an oblique strain, the senior posted two shutouts to help the Broncos improve to 4-4 in the California Collegiate Athletic Association. … The Broncos also had strong showings at the Alaska Anchorage Invitational on Saturday. Junior Christina Jimenez (Granite Hills High) had a fourth-place finish (24:22.27) on a 6,000-meter course to lead the women to a victory over Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks. The men finished second in their meet, with senior Mark Batres posting a second-place finish (26:54.86) on the 8,000-meter course. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The streak is over. The conference is up for grabs. None of it fazes La Verne women’s volleyball coach Don Flora, who insists his program welcomes a tougher Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and a grittier schedule on the way to the NCAA Division III playoffs.