Closing out the regular season facing two NESCAC opponents, Tufts went 1–1 over the weekend to finish the regular season with a 15–9 overall record and a 6–4 conference record. In the final game of the season, Tufts lost to Wesleyan in a five-set game on Saturday, a day after it trounced Conn. College in three.
The Jumbos took an early lead in the match against the Wesleyan Cardinals on Saturday, scoring six consecutive points early in the first set. Behind the serve of first-year outside hitter Cate Desler, the Jumbos advanced their lead scoring five more points to make the score 14–5. Wesleyan was unable to gain any footing in the set, and Tufts won the set by 15 points, 25–10.
The second set was much closer, as both teams stayed within a few points of each other until the end. Tufts led Wesleyan by two points at 22–20 before a bad set by Wesleyan sophomore setter Grace Rose and an attack error from Wesleyan junior outside hitter Nicole Hilton awarded Tufts two additional points. Up 24–20, the Jumbos closed out the set, with the winning kill from Desler, at 25–21.
The Cardinals responded early in the third set by scoring the first nine points of the match, the first key momentum shift. It wasn’t until a kill from junior outsider hitter and co-captain Maddie Stewart that the Jumbos made it on the scoreboard. While Tufts was able chip away at the deficit, Wesleyan maintained the lead for the entire set and won 25–19.
Wesleyan continued to dominate offensively in the fourth set by scoring six consecutive points and taking an early 9–4 lead. Later in the set, Tufts narrowed the deficit to three points, but soon after Wesleyan pulled away again and maintained a large lead for the remainder of the set, eventually taking the fourth 25–14 and forcing a decider.
The beginning of the fifth set mirrored that of the previous two sets, where the Cardinals gained a quick and comfortable lead. Wesleyan led Tufts by five at 9–4, but Tufts was able to catch up. The move to try and take the deciding fifth set for Tufts started when Desler earned a kill to break up the Wesleyan four-point scoring streak. Two kills from junior middle hitter Christina Nwanpka sandwiched a kill from junior outside hitter Brigid Bell, and brought the Jumbos within just two points of the Cardinals at 12–10. However, the Cardinals responded with a kill, and despite another point from Stewart, the Cardinals earned two more points to clinch the set and the game at 15–11. With this win, Wesleyan claimed the No. 2 seed in the NESCAC.
“During the first two sets of the Wesleyan game, our team played with confidence, and that made the biggest difference,” senior outside hitter and co-captain Mackenzie Bright told the Daily in an email. “In the third through fifth sets, Wesleyan really started to challenge us, and we didn’t rise back to continue to challenge them as well. We got less consistent offensively and defensively, and really let the game happen to us.”
Stewart led the team with a career-high 16 kills, followed closely by Desler who had 13.
A day earlier against Conn. College, Tufts dominated for three consecutive sets to win the Senior Night game 3–0. The Jumbos took an early 7–1 lead in the first set, and the Camels were unable to take the lead for the remainder of the set. The Jumbos took the first set 25–19.
Nearing the end of the second set, Conn. College was leading by three points when Tufts responded with five consecutive points to take a two-point lead at 20–18. Responding to a kill from the Camels’ first-year right setter Avery Light, the Jumbos furthered their lead with two kills from Nwanpka and a kill from Stewart to make the score 24–20. Finally, the Jumbos earned the winning point on the back of an attack error by Camels’ sophomore outside hitter Katie Howley to win the set 25–22.
“We had very good energy and constant communication,” Nwanpka told the Daily in an email. “Overall we just had fun and played loose.”
The third set was a back-and-forth battle as both teams traded points throughout the entire set. Tufts was holding a one-point lead at 23–22 when Stewart got a kill followed by a kill from Desler to win the set and the game. Bright, Nwanpka and sophomore middle hitter Jennifer Ryan had eight kills each on the game.
“In the Conn College game, we really stepped up our serve and pass game,” Bright said. “Our servers were making their serves tough and in the court, and our defense was keeping us consistently in system on both serve receive and defense.”
After the conclusion of the regular season, Tufts enters the postseason as the No. 5 seed in the NESCAC. Tufts faces Middlebury in the NESCAC quarterfinal on Nov. 2, at Bowdoin.
Bright described the team’s attitude heading into the postseason.
“Looking into the postseason, we are making sure not to assume anything about the teams we are facing,” Bright said. “Postseason brings out a very different team in everyone, and to assume that every team will do the same thing they did in the regular season would be a poor choice on our part. On the flip side, we are going to be leaving the previous results against these teams in the past, and working to just compete no matter what comes at us from the other side of the net.”