Disclaimer: Mackenzie Bright has previously worked as a staff writer at the Daily. She was not involved in the writing of this article.
It was a weekend of perfection for Tufts volleyball, opening up NESCAC play with a pair of emphatic victories against conference rivals. In spite of their earlier victories, adjustments were paramount heading into Saturday’s contest against Colby, in both the respect of strategy changes and simply staying in the moment.
“On Saturday we really wanted to work on staying calm in situations where we weren’t necessarily in system,” junior outside hitter Mackenzie Bright told the Daily in an electronic message.
Regardless of the slight contrast, both proved to be effective barometers of success. Tufts set the tone against Colby from the beginning with an assertive 25–13 first set triumph, and used that momentum for the victorious 25–13 and 25–17 second and third sets, respectively. Sophomore libero Kelly Klimo, classmate defensive specialist Madison Clay and junior setter Katie Zheng all received the ball well. Klimo recorded seven digs during the matchup, while Clay and Zheng posted 10 and eight respectively.
“We all trust each other,” Klimo told the Daily in an electronic message. “We know that we are all capable of doing our jobs in order to help us get to where we need to be.”
The offense took every opportunity that the defense handed it, smashing 44 kills with a 40.2-percent kill success rate over the course of three sets. Bright led the team with 13 and was closely followed by sophomore outside-hitter Brigid Bell. The match was over in a mere 1:24, ending a weekend of NESCAC play at home.
The back-to-back games did not pose any challenges for the team’s stamina, and the team was able to adjust their play to either opponent.
“We like to approach each match one at a time focusing on the opponent we are playing rather than past or future matches,” junior setter Angela Yu told the Daily in an electronic message. “So having a game plan for each match keeps our heads in the present moment and allows us to make adjustments specific to the match we are playing.”
Bates, Friday’s foe, was also dispatched in three sets, perhaps as neck-and-neck as three sets could be. Tufts squeaked by 25–23, 25–22 and 27–25, getting key kills when they were needed.
The Jumbos raced to an early 17–9 lead before finding themselves down 21–20. They rallied, however, finding themselves ahead 24–23 after Bell added a pair of kills and sophomore setter Rachel Furash added her own. Finally, Bright smashed home the winning hit to seal the pivotal first set.
In the second set neither team was able to take a decisive lead and the score tied at 20–20. Four errors by the Bobcats and a final kill from Bright were enough to finish off the set with a 25–22 advantage.
Tufts continued its steady foothold on the match as it rolled into the third set, but a series of soft tips over the trees of the Tufts front line at the net kept Bates in it — including one that fought off the second of three match points. Nonetheless, the Jumbos completed the match using the same formula that worked so well for the majority of day: dominance at the net. As noted by the players themselves, the importance is represented in multiple ways.
“It is so important to be strong at the net,” Yu said. “It allows our teammates to play great defense behind them.”
The dominance at the net showed in the numbers. Tufts hit home 51 kills compared to Bates’ 37. Bright was responsible for 16 of the Jumbos’ kills; however, lots of team members contributed, with sophomore hitters Heather Holz and Maddie Stewart, Furash and Bell each recording at least seven kills.
Bright was named NESCAC Player of the Week on Monday after her outstanding performance over the weekend. She is the first player on the team to be recognized for the award since Elizabeth Ahrens (LA ’17) received the award almost exactly one year ago.
“When you have three hitters in the front row who can all equally put the ball away, it makes it a lot more difficult for the other team to figure out where the set is going to go,” Bright said. “We have a lot of really talented and dynamic hitters on our team who can all step up to the plate and challenge the other team across the net.”
The Jumbos currently sit at the top of the NESCAC in-conference standings, thanks to the two victories. They’ll look to keep up their undefeated conference record (and potentially even their undefeated set-record) in an away game at Bowdoin today. Bowdoin also won their first two matches of the season, against Colby and Bates as well (though they did drop a set to the latter).
It should be a highly competitive season for the Jumbos and the strong performances over the weekend indicate that they will be in it until the very end.