Volleyball victorious vs. Clark in season opener

Junior opposite hitter Christina Nwankpa attacks the ball during Tufts' 3-0 win against Amherst on Nov. 4, 2017. Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily Archives

Tufts got off to a strong start in its 2018 season, picking up a 3–1 victory over Clark on Tuesday. The Jumbos picked up the first, third and fourth sets on their way to victory over the Cougars (2–1) at Cousens Gymnasium.

Tufts started slowly in the first set, falling behind 7–4 before junior middle hitter Christina Nwankpa got a kill that sparked an 11–2 run. The Jumbos went on to win the set 25–16.

The hosts quickly fell behind in the second set as well, trailing the Cougars 7–2. After Clark opened up a 13–7 lead, Tufts went on a 6–0 run to pull even midway through the set. However, the visitors were able to pull away again courtesy of a 5–1 run and ultimately took the second set 25–19.

Tufts was able to turn the match around in the third and fourth sets, winning 25–16 and 25–17, respectively, while looking mostly untroubled throughout.

The Cougars were led by senior right side hitter and co-captain Ana Patricia Mercado, who contributed on both offense and defense. The Guaynabo, Puerto Rico native had six digs in addition to a game-high 18 kills, half of her team’s total. Mercado was helped out on defense by senior defensive specialist and co-captain Rayme Quiban, who racked up 17 digs.

The victory was a team effort for Tufts, with three players recording double-digit kills: senior outside hitter and co-captain Mackenzie Bright (13), junior outside hitter Brigid Bell (10) and junior middle hitter Heather Holz (10). Nwankpa and first-year outside hitter Cate Desler also contributed several kills to the Jumbos’ total of 56, with nine and eight, respectively.

Defensively, Tufts was led by sophomore outside hitter Sophia Acker, who recorded a game-high 24 digs while also helping facilitate the Jumbos’ attack. Nwankpa and junior outside hitter and co-captain Maddie Stewart also anchored the defense with four and three blocks, respectively. First-year setter Ariel Zedric recorded 27 assists, and junior setter Rachel Furash added 22.

“It was exciting to play as a group against someone other than ourselves, and it is equally exciting that the competition level in our gym is high,” Holz told the Daily in an email. “Our rookies are contributing to a high level of play and are meshing well with our returners.”

Bell was also pleased with the result and hopes the Jumbos will continue to improve as they get comfortable playing together and shake out any early-season nerves.

“We added some new pieces this year to both our offense and defense, and while we still have an incredible amount of learning and growing to do as the season progresses, I’m excited about our potential as a cohesive group,” Bell told the Daily in an email. “With the first game of the season, we always have a small case of the jitters to work through, but I thought that everyone did well in staying collected and working through those in the ways that we did.”

Tufts will look to continue its success this weekend at the Emory National Tournament in Atlanta, Ga., where it will play four matches in two days. The team is looking forward to the competition, according to Bell, which should present a serious test.

“All the teams we’re playing in Atlanta are talented, and they’re some of the top teams in the country,” she said. “It’s an incredible opportunity for us to push ourselves early in the season and see what some of the best programs in the nation look like early on so that we can continue to train hard throughout the season and (hopefully) into postseason. It’s also another opportunity for us to continue to work on connections between setters and hitters and to better our game by playing teams who will challenge our discipline and tempo.”

Tufts will take on Oglethorpe and Otterbein on Friday, followed by games against Berry and Emory on Saturday to cap off the tournament.