Senior outside hitter Maddie Kuppe winds up for a hit against Springfield College on Wednesday, Sept. 9, Evan Sayles / Tufts Daily Archive

Jumbos drop regular season finale to Panthers

The Jumbos suffered a defeat at the hands of the Middlebury Panthers on Saturday, falling in four sets in their final match of the regular season.

With the loss, Tufts fell to 17-7 on the season and 7-3 within the NESCAC. Middlebury is 17-6 with an equal 7-3 conference record. Because of the head-to-head win, Middlebury will earn the higher seed in the postseason. The seeding, however, will make little difference as far as determining each team’s first opponent: fourth-seeded Middlebury will take on fifth-seeded Tufts in a NESCAC quarterfinal match tomorrow at Bowdoin. 

This first round bout will be a rematch of a game the Tufts team members hope to put behind them.

“Since we just played Middlebury, they are fresh in our mind,” first-year Angela Yu told the Daily in an email. “This week we definitely have the ‘all or nothing’ mentality, which will hopefully bring great energy into Friday’s match.”

In the first set of the Saturday match, the Jumbos jumped to an early 12-6 lead. The Panthers chipped away before eventually tying the score at 21, and the visitors scored four of the set’s final five points to win the first set.

“After taking the first set, there was a sense of ease and relaxedness and I think we went into the next three sets back on our heels because we thought we had it in the bag,” first-year Katie Zheng told the Daily in an email. “We were too passive with our efforts and didn’t adjust to the Middlebury offense quickly enough. Also, Middlebury did a great job of being in-system and playing clean, crisp volleyball.”

Tufts fell behind early in the second set before going on a run to take a 13-11 lead. The teams then exchanged short runs until Middlebury gained a 24-23 lead. A kill from first-year Isabel Sessions decided the second set in Middlebury’s favor, tying the match at one set apiece.

The third set of the match started tightly, with both teams within three points of the other. Middlebury pulled ahead in the middle of the set, scoring three straight to take a 14-9 lead it would not relinquish. The Jumbos pulled within two at 21-19, but the Panthers held on and took the set 25-20.

The fourth set played out largely similar to the third. With the set tied at 11, the Panthers began to pull away behind four straight points, eventually winning the set 25-19. The Jumbos tried to keep the defeat in perspective with the postseason still ahead of them.

“Of course we wanted two wins this past Friday and Saturday as our [NESCAC tournament] seed depended on them,” Yu said. “But, any team that we are to play will compete with us and we just need to focus on each match as it comes.”

Tufts senior Maddie Kuppe tied Sessions with a match-high 15 kills. Middlebury sophomores Becca Raffel and Eliana Schaefer contributed 13 and 10 kills, respectively, while Tufts first-year MacKenzie Bright finished with 11 kills of her own.

The day prior to the Middlebury contest, the Tufts team had traveled to Hamilton, coming away victorious while Hamilton’s record fell to 6-17 on the season, including 1-8 in conference play.

The Jumbos easily dispatched the Continentals in straight sets, winning the match 25-14, 25-16, 20-21. Kuppe and junior Elizabeth Ahrens tied for a match-high nine kills each.

With the regular season behind them, Tufts is looking forward to a rematch, and a chance for some revenge, against Middlebury in the first postseason match.

“It’s frustrating to take a loss anytime,” Zheng said. “But I think this loss against Middlebury has fueled the fire for practice, and the fact that we get to see them right away on Friday has pumped us up so much. We have never been so eager to get in the gym and get right to it.”

According to Zheng, the imminent postseason has increased intensity during practice as the team prepares for the NESCAC Tournament.

“There is a lot more physicality,” Zheng said. “Practices have been tougher on our bodies physically because we are giving our 100 percent for every single drill and we have more consequences when we make mistakes. But you can tell every single member on this team wants it more than anything, so practices have been so intense and so full of energy.”

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