Members of the volleyball team huddle after scoring a point in the first set of the game against the Roger Williams University Hawks on Sept. 14. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

Jumbos graduate three seniors after most successful season since 2009

Tufts women’s volleyball ended this season with an overall record of 27-4, while going 10-0 in regular season conference play. It was the team’s best season on record since 2009. Tufts advanced all the way to the Elite Eight of the Div. III NCAA tournament in Oshkosh, Wis. before being eliminated in a tight 3-2 match against Southwestern University of Texas.

Southwestern went on to lose in its Final Four match-up against Washington University in St. Louis, which then lost the national championship game to Calvin College.

The accomplishments of this Tufts team are arguably even greater than those of the 2009 squad — which also advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals with a 31-5 overall record — because of its youth and depth. The Jumbos were able to play closely and competitively in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, while playing four first-year and two sophomore players at the same time for significant stretches. The team’s young talent bodes well for the program’s future, as the Jumbos look for another shot at the NCAA title in coming seasons.

“I’m just very excited about our freshman class because we are so big, so that makes that team very young and I’m excited to have three more years with them,” first-year right side hitter Christina Nwankpa said.

Coach Cora Thompson — who has been with the program for 20 years, first playing on the team as a member of the class of 1999, then serving as an assistant coach between 1999 and 2002 and ultimately becoming the head coach in 2002 — was named the Northeast Region Coach of the Year last month for her pivotal role in bringing together a relatively inexperienced team and leading them to success. Thompson adds this honor to an already decorated resume that includes being a named NESCAC Coach of the Year five times and leading Tufts to seven NCAA berths. With the program’s future prospects looking promising, Thompson hopes to continue that success going forward.

Looking forward is an exciting thing to do now that the season has ended. We have an incredibly talented and [battle-tested] group coming back who have experienced great success along with a few heartbreaking defeats,” Thompson told the Daily in an email. “The experiences they have had from this season will serve as good fuel for their fires as they head into the always challenging offseason of lifting, sprinting and training on and off court.”

Tufts graduates three players this spring, including key starters in co-captain middle hitter Elizabeth Ahrens, middle hitter McKenzie Humann and outside hitter Mary Maccabee. Their departure also leaves a leadership void on the team that will need to be filled.

From their widely recognized acumen on the court — Ahrens received All-American honorable mention honors and All-Northeast Region team honors, while Humann was named an AVCA All-Region honorable mention — to their mentorship of the first-year and sophomore-heavy team, they were critical to the team’s success.

“In terms of our seniors, we will miss all three for very different reasons… All three have been incredibly passionate about our sport and this team and have given us everything they have had up until the last point of our season,” Thompson said. “We are so thankful for their efforts, their leadership and selflessness throughout their careers and they will be missed.”

Thompson will look to this year’s juniors and sophomores as well as the talented class of first-years to take up those leadership roles next season. Returning junior captain and defensive specialist Alex Garrett, sophomore setter Angela Yu and sophomore outside hitter Mackenzie Bright, with their experience and success on the court this season, figure to play important roles in the leadership dynamic next season. The entire team, however, seems prepared to continue the same program mantra they followed all season, of “one game at a time.” Next season’s first-year class likely won’t be as large as this season’s, but no matter how many roster spots the class of 2021 occupy, the returners hope to incorporate them into the team dynamic and maintain this season’s cohesiveness.

“We will just be really kind and honest [to the first-years],” Nwankpa said. “And just try to get things done.”

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