Jumbos stand perfect in NESCAC, prepare for quarterfinals

Tufts setter sophomore Angela Yu prepares to set the ball to Tufts middle hitter senior Elizabeth Ahrens in the game against the Conn. College Camels on Oct. 29. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

With yet another convincing win, the Tufts women’s volleyball team finished off its first perfect season in the NESCAC since 2008, going 10-0 in all conference play. Improving to 22-2 overall on the season, the Jumbos have wrapped up all regular season play and are poised for the next step, their postseason run.

Winning in straight sets against Conn. College on Saturday at Cousens Gym, Tufts players looked confident and relaxed. Despite the first two sets remaining close, with Tufts winning 25-22 and 25-21 respectively, Tufts never relinquished the momentum and won the third set 25-13, with a more comfortable margin.

The Jumbo defense was the main story of the game, as it was able to hold the Camels to a hitting percentage of just 6.6 percent, nearly 10 percent below their season average. First-year libero Kelly Klimo led the team in digs with 16, followed by junior co-captain defensive specialist Alex Garrett with nine and first-year outside hitter Brigid Bell with eight. 

Senior middle hitter co-captain Elizabeth Ahrens led the Tufts offense with eight kills. Fellow senior middle hitter McKenzie Humann and Bell followed suit with six kills each. The Conn. College offense was led by senior middle hitter Ella Johnson and junior right side Sam Hunter with nine kills each.

The Jumbos have been on an upwards trajectory all season long, as they improved their chemistry with each game. After losing four key seniors last year and bringing in seven new first-years — two of whom have become starters and many of whom are playing significant rotation minutes — the Jumbos were immediately faced with the challenge of building a functional team dynamic again at the start of the season.

“I think the returners have done a great job of kind of carrying the mindset that we want throughout the season and the freshmen have done an excellent job of just hopping right on that train and just taking off with us,” sophomore setter Angela Yu said. “I think we have just bonded as a team in that way.”

The team is now preparing for this weekend’s NESCAC tournament, which will be on its home court this year. The Jumbos last played the conference tournament on their home floor in 2014, when they advanced to the conference championship match but lost to Williams in five sets. Despite finishing first in the conference after the regular season four times and playing in the conference championship five times, Tufts has not won the NESCAC conference championship since 1996 and will look to use its home court advantage this year to finally break that streak in the title match.

We are looking forward to hosting the other NESCAC teams in Cousens Gym this weekend and to use the home-court energy from our fans as extra fuel in these upcoming match-ups,” Humann said. 

Tufts has gone 11-1 in Cousens Gym this season, with its sole loss coming at the hands of Springfield College on Oct. 21. The Jumbos hope that their consistency at home so far this year will continue through this weekend.

Middlebury, perhaps Tufts’ biggest threat in this postseason, sits at second place in the NESCAC with an overall record of 15-8. During their only game this season against the Panthers, the Jumbos managed to pull out a five-set victory, but it was a hard fought, back-and-forth match during which both teams posted similar stats across the board.

Another potentially challenging matchup for Tufts could be fourth-seeded Bowdoin. Bowdoin, while only 6-4 in conference play, went 7-3 on the road during the regular season. That away record is second only to Tufts’ in the NESCAC. So, while the Jumbos have faced all of these teams before, they continue to take the NESCAC tournament very seriously, knowing that anything could happen.

“Though our other season goals extend beyond NESCACs, we are focused on staying in the present moment, which is one of our team mantras,”Humann said.

Tufts’s next test is at home on Friday against Conn. College for their quarterfinal match-up in the NESCAC tournament. The teams recently played on Oct. 29, so they are highly familiar with the others’ play style. The Jumbos are 2-1 overall against the Camels in postseason play, last facing each other in 2013 when the Jumbos won in five sets.