10/11/14 – Medford/Somerville, MA – Tufts S/DS Kyra Baum, A16, left, and Tufts MH/OPP Elizabeth Ahrens, A17, right, go up for a block during the Tufts volleyball 3-0 victory against Trinity in Cousens Gym on October 11th, 2014. (Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily)

Volleyball rolls through competition at MIT Invitational

The Jumbos are off to their hottest start since 2011, sweeping their first week of competition and currently standing at 5-0. The team debuted at home against Clark University on Sept. 7 before traveling to the MIT Invitational on Friday and Saturday, where it beat teams from Endicott College, Wellesley College, Brandeis University and Regis College.

“Going into the first couple games of the season, I just expected us to give our all,” senior co-captain Elizabeth Ahrens said. “The first couple games are all about executing what we’ve done in practice.”

The Jumbos first battled the Endicott Gulls at the invitational and were ultimately victorious after four close sets. The first two sets went 25-22 and 25-15. The teams traded points in the second set until first-year Rachel Furash’s serving ability helped Tufts score seven straight points.

The Gulls fought back and won the third set 25-19, before tying the fourth set at 19-all. Despite the momentum shift, the Jumbos pulled away, sealing the victory at 25-22. Sophomore Mackenzie Bright notched a career-high 17 kills in the match.

“It’s early but I will say that this team knows how to compete,” coach Cora Thompson told the Daily in an email. “We are working hard to develop our team chemistry as well as improve our skills, and I would say this week was certainly a step in the right direction.”

Tufts faced Wellesley on Friday and dominated the matchup. The Jumbos won 3-0, by an average of over 10 points per set. First-years again performed well for the Jumbos, as Christina Nwankpa paced the team in kills with 10 and Kelly Klimo tallied 16 digs.

The Jumbos started slow in their next match against the Brandeis Judges, dropping the first set 25-18. They rallied back, however, and managed to win each of the next three sets by over seven points. First-year Brigid Bell led the Jumbos in terms of kills with eight total, continuing the trend of strong first-year showings. Ahrens added six kills, along with five block-assists in the match.

“[Going into the season] I expected great things from this team,” senior McKenzie Humann said. “We have great potential. We have a really huge incoming [first-year] class, and they all stepped up this week. They showed that they’re ready to play college ball.”

Finally, Tufts, with its eyes on a perfect record, battled Regis, who entered the game a dismal 0-3. Tufts dispatched Regis 3-0 with 25-12, 25-20 and 25-12 wins. Senior Mary Maccabee led the Jumbos with 13 kills, with Nwankpa adding five kills and three blocks.

“It is always great to have our hard work pay off,” Thompson said. “But right now we are really focused on the process of uniting as a new group and improving our skills. We know there is a lot of work to be done to be the team we want to be.”

Tufts, despite its 4-0 tournament record, finished second at the tournament to host team MIT, who did not drop a set throughout the invitational. Ahrens and Klimo were the Jumbos named to the all-tournament team.

“I think our greatest strength is that we go into every game with a ton of energy and fire,” Ahrens said. “I know how badly we want to win. Our challenge in the next couple weeks is to stay consistent with that energy.”

Prior to their four-game weekend, the Jumbos opened at home against the Clark University Cougars (3-3). The Jumbos got off to a rocky start, dropping the first set 25-21, but rallied to win the next three 25-22, 28-26 and 25-22. The match would prove the closest the Jumbos played their first week.

“Our biggest struggle is that sometimes we have a slow start,” Humann said. “Once we get going, it’s been amazing. When we work together as a team we look unstoppable.”

Ahrens and Bell both put up 13 kills for the Jumbos, and Humann added six kills to go along with four blocks against the Cougars.

After a 5-0 start to the season, the Jumbos are still taking things one game at a time, according to Humann.

“[Our record] definitely boosts the team’s confidence,” Humann said. “What we’ve done so far is in the past, we just have to keep preparing for the future. It certainly makes us feel better, but I don’t think we dwell on it too much.”

The team’s first in-conference games start this week, with home games against Williams and Amherst on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Before that, Tufts plays non-conference opponent Roger Williams at home on Wednesday.

“[The NESCAC games] aren’t really higher pressure,” Ahrens said. “It’s more exciting than anything because we play them all the time, but it doesn’t really change how we think about the games.”

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