Volleyball bounces back from losing streak to defeat two NESCAC opponents

Junior outside hitter and co-captain Maddie Stewart tips the ball during Tufts' 3–1 home win against Brandeis on Sept. 12. Julia McDowell / The Tufts Daily

After a week of uncharacteristic defeats, Tufts got back on track this weekend with two strong NESCAC wins over Hamilton and Williams.

On Saturday, the Jumbos dueled against the Williams Ephs (7–7) in Williamstown, Mass. The match started off tight, with the teams splitting the first two sets. Tufts took the first 26–24 and conceded the second to Williams, 19–25. The Jumbos then ran away with the third set with a decisive 25–13 win thanks to aggressive offense. The squad used this momentum to dominate the fourth set 25–15 and claim the match victory, improving their record to 9–6. Sophomore libero Sophia Acker led the Jumbos with 23 digs, and first-year opposite Cate Desler earned 14 kills of her own. 

“Our discipline was the highlight of [the] game against Williams,” junior libero Madison Clay told the Daily in an email. “We came into [the game] with a specific plan for defense that called for some adjustments and we executed the plan perfectly. Also, our serving today was some of our best.”

The night prior, the Jumbos traveled to Clinton, N.Y. to face the Hamilton Continentals (4–7) for their first match of the double-header weekend. Tufts captured the match in four sets, winning 25–17, 25–6, 21–25, 25–20.

Tufts’ recent resurgence came on the back of some tough losses previously, which Acker believes helped the team to re-focus.

“Last week’s [earlier string of losses against Endicott, Bowdoin, Johnson & Wales (JWU) and Wellesley] was definitely a wake-up call for us,” Acker told the Daily in an email. “We shifted to a more gritty, determined mentality and focused on communication. We used our losses as a learning opportunity to change our technique and come out with more fire and execution this weekend.”

Earlier in the week, Tufts faced off against Wellesley (10–1) on Wednesday night. Tufts started off strong, pulling away with a 14–7 lead to start. However, Wellesley responded with aggressive play and numerous aces to claw back, resulting in a tight first set. The teams tied up at almost every point between the 18th point and the end, but a kill by Desler iced the exciting set for the Jumbos 29–27.

Although Tufts started with a promising 6–1 lead in the second set, a seven-point streak by Wellesley proved that it would be just as tight as the first. Dominant kills by Wellesley senior middle hitter Yasmine Reece proved to be too much for the Jumbos, who fell in the second set, 25–23.

With the match tied up at two sets apiece, the third set ramped up in intensity, with Wellesley edging out Tufts to win, 26–24. Finally, in the fourth set, Wellesley’s momentum prevailed as they ran away with the match, handing Tufts a 25–16 defeat. Junior and senior co-captains Maddie Stewart and Mackenzie Bright, both outside hitters, led the Jumbos with 11 kills each.

The weekend prior, following a three-game losing streak against Endicott, Bowdoin and JWU, the Jumbos bounced back to beat Roger Williams 3–0 in the second contest of the JWU Invitational in Rhode Island. Tufts came out strong in the first set, earning the first two points by taking advantage of an early error and a kill from junior middle hitter/opposite Christina Nwankpa.

The Jumbos held the lead for the entire set with a final score of 25–14. The Hawks made an attempt at a comeback in the beginning of the second set, scoring the first three consecutive points, but the Jumbos quickly responded and started to pull away, eventually taking the set, 25–18. The final set solidified the win for the Jumbos as their domination continued, and they clinched the game with the third set victory, 25–14. 

Earlier that day, Tufts fell to JWU in four sets, 18–25, 25–16, 25–19, 25–19. Tufts took the first set, leading JWU by as much as nine points later on in the set. Set two proved to be more back and forth with both teams going on long scoring streaks. 

In the third set, the score deficit was much smaller as both teams remained one or two points from each other. The Wildcats found an opportunity to pull away from the 11–11 tie after a Jumbo error and went on to widen the deficit to three points, holding a 14–11 lead. The Jumbos did not regain the lead for the rest of the set, which the Wildcats took, 25–19. The fourth and final set was a battle. With a kill from Desler, the Jumbos trailed the Wildcats 19–21, but the Wildcats pulled away, scoring four consecutive points to take the set and the game. 

Last Friday, Tufts faced Bowdoin in its third conference game of the season, losing in five sets. This is the first NESCAC regular season match the team has lost in 24 consecutive conference games, with the previous loss — to Middlebury — dating back to Oct. 31, 2015. Set one against Bowdoin proved emblematic of the following sets as the teams remained within one or two points of each other up to the final points. Tufts eventually took the first set 27–25 with an ace from junior outside hitter Brigid Bell.

The Polar Bears responded to early points from the Jumbos in the second set and took a five-point lead. The Jumbos were unable to crawl out of this deficit, and the Polar Bears won the set 25–20 to tie the game 1–1. Tufts then dominated the third from the start, eventually winning the set by 11 points, thus leading Bowdoin 2–1. Bowdoin responded by taking an early lead in the fourth set, but Tufts closed the gap, fighting back to just a one point deficit at 17–16. The teams battled for each point after Bowdoin regained a small lead, but an ace from senior libero Lisa Sheldon of Bowdoin brought the match to a decider.

The Jumbos dominated the start of the fifth and final set taking an early two-point lead and extending the lead to five points, bringing the score to 10–5. Tufts held the lead for the majority of the set, but was unable to cash in on its advantage as Bowdoin caught up at 13 points. The visitors then made Tufts pay with two quick kills from Bowdoin first-year outside hitter Allyson Hawkins, winning the final set 15–13 and clinching the victory. 

Against Endicott on Sept. 18, Tufts fell in four sets despite impressive individual efforts from Holz and Bell. Bell had 15 kills — her individual best on the season — and Holz had eight kills. The Jumbos lost the first set by just two points, but responded quickly in the second set, dominating the Gulls, 25–13. The following two sets were close, but the Gulls clinched both by three and two points respectively. The fourth and final set was a battle as the teams were tied from the 21st through the 26th points. With a kill from the Gulls and a Jumbos error, the Gulls took the set and the game.

“Win or lose, our team is always looking for progress,” coach Cora Thompson told the Daily in an email. “Each contest is an opportunity to improve together. We remain focused on the present moment and passionate about bettering our overall game against the strongest opponents. This weekend we certainly bettered our game.”

The team looks to continue its progress tonight against UMass Boston before another double-header weekend with matches against NESCAC rivals Amherst and Trinity on Friday and Saturday respectively.


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