Volleyball responds to Amherst disappointment with dominant win over Trinity

Junior middle hitter Christina Nwankpa serves the ball during the Tufts' 3–1 home win over Brandeis on Sept. 12. Julia McDowell / The Tufts Daily

Tufts sits third in the NESCAC with a 11–7 record (5–2 in-conference) with a pair of wins this week. The team dominated UMass Boston (11–7) on the road on Tuesday before falling to NESCAC rival Amherst (12–3) at home on Friday night. The Jumbos then bounced back to take down the Trinity Bantams (8–6) at Cousens Gym on Saturday afternoon.

On Saturday, the Jumbos rolled through the Bantams in a quick three-set match that demonstrated the hosts’ superiority over their conference foes. Tufts started off quickly, gaining a 14–5 lead, and Trinity first-year middle hitter Alexandra Kelly ultimately sealed the first set with an error that gave Tufts a 25–14 win. The Jumbos were equally dominant in the second set, pulling away to an 11–5 lead that they maintained throughout the rest of the set with little contest from the Bantams. Kills from senior outside hitter/opposite and co-captain Mackenzie Bright and first-year middle hitter/opposite Gracie Jendrezak, with junior setter/opposite Rachel Furash assisting both, clinched the second set for Tufts, 25–13. The third set unraveled in like fashion, with an ace by junior outside hitter/opposite Brigid Bell clinching a 25–16 victory.

“Every new season brings new challenges and when faced with adversity, this group is great at refocusing on the task and opponent ahead of us,” junior middle hitter/opposite Heather Holz told the Daily in an email. “Considering Friday’s loss to Amherst, I’m really proud of how we came out strong and continued to play at a consistent level throughout the match against Trinity.”

First-year outside hitter/opposite Cate Desler believes communication played a big role in Tufts’ success against Trinity.

“A big theme this season has been communication,” Desler told the Daily in an email. “For our match against Trinity, we focused on always saying something while we are on the court and this emphasis brought us success this Saturday.”

The Jumbos played their first home match in two weeks on Friday night against the Amherst Mammoths, who held fourth place in the NESCAC standings.

The first set was very tight, with the teams trading points back and forth for the majority of the set. The set was marked by strong offense and few errors from both sides. The Jumbos, at one point, found themselves down 12–9, but responded swiftly with a five-point swing that included two aces by Bell to make the score 14–12. Tufts’ lead remained slight until the very end of the set, when the team began to pull away. A kill by junior outside hitter/opposite and co-captain Maddie Stewart claimed the first set for the Jumbos, 25–18.

The second set proved to be as tight as the first, with Amherst trailing by only a few points throughout. The Jumbos kept their play controlled, committing no more than five errors throughout the second frame. Down 21–16, the Mammoths threatened a comeback, climbing their way back to 21–19, but kills by Bell, Desler and junior middle hitter/opposite Christina Nwankpa proved too strong, and the Jumbos took the second set 25–20.

The third set began with numerous lead changes and substitutions from both sides. With the score tied at 18, Amherst made a move for the set. Kills by a host of Mammoths, including junior outside hitter Emily Kolsky, paired with a couple of Tufts errors were enough to grant the Mammoths the third set, 25–20.

Up 14–11 in the fourth set, it appeared that the Jumbos might capture the set and the match. However, the Mammoths clawed back to tie up the score at 14. The set remained tight for its duration, with the teams knotted at 24 and 25 points apiece before a kill by Amherst sophomore outside hitter Jamie Dailey and an attack error by Bright handed it to the Mammoths, 27–25.

Tied at two sets, the final set proved to be just as adrenaline-inducing as the previous. Amherst was in a promising position with three match points, but a pair of kills from Desler and Stewart, along with an ace by Holz, brought the Jumbos back in it. The teams again found themselves knotted at 14 points, but attack errors by Desler and Stewart gave the deciding set to the Mammoths. The come-from-behind win was Amherst’s first over Tufts since 2015.

“It was obviously a tough match and Amherst did a better job of adjusting than we did,” coach Cora Thompson told the Daily in an email. “They changed a few things after we took the first two sets and we didn’t adjust well to their change. At the same time, our ball control declined and we weren’t as effective offensively as we were in sets one and two.”

Coming off a strong win over Williams the weekend prior, the team looked confident going into their match against the UMass Boston Beacons Tuesday night.

“We wanted to bring solid focused play and energy for the entire match [against UMass Boston],” Thompson said. “Historically, UMass Boston plays very well at home, and we knew we would have our hands full on Tuesday night.”

The Jumbos accumulated a significant lead to begin the match, claiming eight points before the Beacons won their first. Thanks to numerous attack errors by UMass Boston and powerful kills from Stewart, Bright, Desler, Holz and Nwankpa, the Jumbos maintained a dominant lead throughout the set. At 24–16, UMass Boston sophomore setter Carsen Komminsk committed an error to give the Jumbos the first set.

The second set seemed to continue the same trend as the first, with the Jumbos creating a six-point gap early on. First-year setter/opposite Ariel Zedric wrapped up the victory 25–12 with an ace to put the Jumbos ahead 2–0. While the beginning of the third set proved to have the tightest score throughout the match with the teams knotted at seven, Tufts managed to pull away courtesy of a kill by Bell and an ace by Desler. Although the Beacons did not trail by much throughout the rest of the set, Desler’s kill at 24–20 closed out the win for the Jumbos.

“I was very proud of their discipline throughout the match and their tough serving,” Thompson said. “UMass Boston has a quick and tough offense when they are in system so we needed to serve them tough to neutralize it. Our team did that well.”

The Jumbos will recover with a matchless week before they face the Middlebury Panthers away on Friday night. Thompson spoke of Tufts’ need to keep performing at the highest level if it is to compete successfully going forward.

“Our focus remains on doing what we need to do, and can do, well. If we are the best version of ourselves, it doesn’t matter what or who is on the other side of the net,” Thomspon said. “We will work to be disciplined and confident in our game against a team that will challenge us every point. We are looking forward to having another awesome opportunity to play great ball and improve.”

COPYRIGHT 2018 THE TUFTS DAILY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.