Following a dominant weekend in which aufts dropped only two sets across three matches, Tufts is headed to the NCAA Div. III Quarterfinal for the second time ever after its first trip in 2009. The Jumbos are just three wins away from a national championship.
In the final match of the weekend, the Jumbos matched up against the Springfield Pride in the regional championship. The Jumbos first battled the Pride in Cousens Gym on Senior Night in October, ultimately falling to the visitors in straight sets.
The second game on Sunday in Cousens Gym was a revenge match between two teams playing their best ball on the highest regional stage, and the Jumbos coasted to a 3-1 win. In the first two sets, Tufts managed to build large early leads, including a 7-3 start in the first set and an 8-0 run from 12-13 to 20-13 midway through the second set. The Jumbos nursed their leads to 25-16 and 25-17 victories in each set respectively.
Springfield responded in the third set by building a 13-6 lead, of which six points were earned when senior co-captain setter Marnae Mawdsley served. Despite the Jumbos pushing back to trim the lead to one at 24-23, the Pride were able to take the set after a winning kill from junior co-captain right side Kayleigh Helgesen.
The fourth set looked like it would be tight as well, but with the score knotted at 13 apiece, the Jumbos rattled off a 7-1 run while sophomore setter Katie Zheng served and took a commanding lead. They rode this lead to the set and match victory in front of a home crowd of approximately 200.
“There were a lot of highs and lows throughout that game. We battled through and stayed consistent,” coach Cora Thompson said in the press conference after the match. “It was a great day to be a Jumbo.”
Senior co-captain middle hitter Elizabeth Ahrens and senior middle hitter McKenzie Humann both posted 11 kills on the day, while sophomore setter Angela Yu orchestrated the offense perfectly with 47 assists.
After the match, sophomore outside hitter Mackenzie Bright was named the Most Valuable Player of the regional tournament after posting a game high 18 kills on the day, with 34 total kills over the entire weekend. Bright was critical for the Jumbos in each match this weekend, as she was often the go-to hitter when the team needed a kill.
“[Bright] is a phenomenal player,” Thompson said in the press conference. “She plays the best when she doesn’t think, and you saw that this weekend.
Ahrens and Humann were also named to the All-Tournament Team for Tufts, while Helgesen and senior middle hitter Lauren Holt were named to the All-Tournament Team for Springfield.
In its first match of the weekend, Tufts defeated Maine Maritime Academy in three straight sets on Friday, winning 25-14, 25-8 and 25-17. This match was an important confidence builder for many Tufts players, as nine different players posted at least one kill in this match.
Humann led the offense against Maine Maritime, posting six kills, followed by Bright and first-year right side hitter Maddie Stewart with five each. First-year outside hitter Brigid Bell and first-year libero Kelly Klimo anchored the defense with 10 and nine digs respectively.
In the match on Saturday against UMass Boston, Tufts also won in four sets. This was also a revenge match for Tufts after UMass Boston handed the team its first loss of the season on Sept. 20. It looked like the match might have been headed in the same direction after the Jumbos dropped the first set of the match 25-20. However, a pair of Tufts runs in the second set earned a 25-16 win. They started out leading 6-2 and ended the set with a 10-2 run, including three kills and a block from Humann. Bright finished the set off with two straight kills, both assisted by Yu. Tufts again built a large lead in the third set, leading 21-9 after an ace from Zheng and pushing through to finish that set 25-11.
The Jumbos led just 24-22 late in a much closer fourth set before Ahrens came through with a match-clinching kill to send the Jumbos to their first NCAA regional final since 2009. Yu ran the offense efficiently, posting 34 assists for the match, with 12 of those going to Humann, who led the team in kills.
The NESCAC released its volleyball All-Conference Teams last week and two Jumbo players were selected along with their coach. Ahrens was named to the First Team as a middle hitter and Klimo received Second Team honors as a libero. Ahrens made the NESCAC Second Team last season. Thompson collected her fifth NESCAC Coach of the Year award this year.
The Jumbos are now preparing for their quarterfinal matchup against 33-4 Southwestern at the Kolf Sports Center in Oshkosh, Wis. on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Every team Tufts could potentially play this weekend offers a unique challenge, as they are teams Tufts has never seen before.
“I think we’re just going to go in with confidence, knowing that we’re a very capable team [with a] mentality of sticking together no matter what the other team brings.” Bright said.