Volleyball posts strong performances against regional, national competition

The Tufts volleyball team huddles during a timeout at their 3–1 home win against Brandeis on Sept. 12. Julia McDowell / The Tufts Daily

Only two weeks into the season, Tufts already has eight games under its belt. The Jumbos traveled over 1,000 miles south to take part in the Emory National Tournament on September 7 and 8 to play some of the top teams in the country. Tufts picked up two wins on the first day of the tournament against Oglethorpe (3–0) and Otterbein (3–2) before falling to both Berry (0–3) and Emory (0–3) the next day. After returning to Medford, the Jumbos responded with three decisive wins over the Brandeis Judges (3–1) on Wednesday, the Bates Bobcats (3–0) on Friday and the Colby Mules (3–0) on Saturday to finish the week at 62.

The Jumbos’ game against the Mules was their second conference match of the season. Tufts came in red-hot as junior setter Rachel Furash served up a six-point lead to start the afternoon. Aggressive play, few errors and some successful fake spikes by the Jumbos made quick work of the first set, which Tufts won 25–11.

The Mules fought back in the second set and took a quick 6–1 lead. Colby’s sophomore outside hitter Elizabeth Middlebrook posed a threat with impressive spikes that brought the Mules’ lead to 10–6. But thanks to powerful strikes by senior co-captain and outside hitter Mackenzie Bright and sophomore middle hitter Jennifer Ryan, Tufts fought back to tie the set at 17–17. Once the Jumbos gained the lead at 19–18 and kept their focus in spite of a Mules timeout, they ran away with the set as Bright aggressively spiked to end it 25–22.

The Jumbos rode through a third set riddled with service errors and rapid changes of possession to close out the match. Furash aced to get the Jumbos to match point and closed out the match at 25–15 as aggressively as she first started it.

The chest bumps, high-fives and embraces amongst the Jumbos throughout the match highlighted the team’s high spirits amidst their three-game winning streak.

The night before, Tufts was equally dominant over NESCAC foe Bates. Junior co-captain and outside hitter Maddie Stewart led the team on both kills (nine) and blocks (five) as the Jumbos defeated the Bobcats 25–18, 25–21 and 25–18 in yet another dominant performance. Although the first set started off slowly with both teams neck and neck in points, the Jumbos pulled away with defense led by sophomore libero Sophia Acker throughout the next two sets.

“Going into the Bates match, we were looking to better our overall ball control while speeding up our offense and solidifying our setter-hitter connections,” coach Cora Thompson told the Daily in an email. “We knew that it would be difficult against a team like Bates, who is known for being one of the best defensive teams in the conference. They challenged us to stay disciplined on defense and we were able to [do] that.”

It took four sets to defeat the Brandeis Judges on Wednesday night in Cousens Gym, with the second set loss being only the fourth the Jumbos have lost all season when victorious. First-year opposite Cate Desler served up a five-point winning streak that assisted the Jumbos in their capture of the first set, but the Judges clawed back to an early lead in the second and narrowly prevailed 25–22. However, the next two sets were captured by the Jumbos 25–19 and 25–17. Bright led the game with an impressive 15 kills and Acker again dominated defense with 23 digs.

“We did a great job of recovering quickly from mistakes to go and get the next point,” Bright told the Daily in an email. “Our blockers in particular had a really great game. They stayed consistent throughout the four sets and made our job much easier defensively.”

In Atlanta the weekend prior, Tufts did not have such luck with tournament host Emory, a powerhouse this season with an 8–3 record. Although the Eagles took down the Jumbos in three sets, each set was fairly close, with the Jumbos taking the lead several times throughout the second and third. However, impressive kills and blocks from 6-foot-2 Emory sophomore middle hitter Finn Wilkins proved to be too much for Tufts, who fell 25–19, 25–21 and 26–24. Earlier that day, the Jumbos fell to the Berry Vikings 25–16, 25–19 and 25–18.

The day before, Tufts battled against Oglethorpe in its first match of the tournament before working through a tough five-set victory over Otterbein. The Jumbos started off tentatively in the beginning against the Oglethorpe Petrels, but soon found their stride and defeated their opponents soundly 25–16, 25–13 and 25–15. Bright was named to the All-Tournament team for her impressive play throughout the weekend.

“We love to be consistently challenged by high level play and we love to challenge other as well. Everyone wins when the play is fast and tough,” Thompson wrote in an email. “Our coaching staff was very impressed with our team’s level of play for it being early in our competitive season … We wanted to gel as a team and build our court chemistry against a high level of play and we did just that.”

Tonight at 7:00 p.m., the Jumbos duel the Endicott Gulls at home before hosting the Bowdoin Polar Bears on Friday night. On Saturday, the team travels to the Johnson & Wales University Invitational in Providence, RI, for two matches against the hosts and Roger Williams.


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