Volleyball sweeps Williams, Hamilton with commanding performances

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

Weekend after weekend, the biggest party on campus continues to be in the Cousens Gymnasium where the No. 14 Tufts volleyball team dominates its opponents. This weekend the Jumbos defeated their two opponents to improve to 14–0, outscoring them by a total of 59 points.

The second game of the weekend stand was against Williams, who came into the game after a tough five-set loss to Bowdoin the night before. The Jumbo offense came out in full force as it had the night before, storming out to an 11–4 lead, with seven of those 11 points coming from kills. Before Williams had time to comprehend the situation, the Jumbos went on another blitz with a nine-point run and eventually finished the set 25–14. The blitzes that Tufts went on this weekend became a defining trait of their victories as they started the second set with a 7–2 run and ended it on a 9–2 run, leaving its Williams opponents without any time to think. They were able to take the game away from Williams, and suddenly, it was two sets to none in favor of Tufts.

The final set of the weekend proved to be the toughest, as Williams refused to go down without a fight. Both teams opened the set cleanly, as they traded kills back and forth. It proved to be a big test for this Jumbo team, as no side held more than a two-point lead for the first 40 points of the set. However, just as they had done all weekend, the Jumbos held their composure, forcing errors from the Ephs and coming up with big kills to close out the set 25–23.

When asked about the nerves the players may have had in this set or throughout the weekend stand, coach Cora Thompson replied confidently, representing the mindset and strength that has produced their 14–0 record and No. 14 ranking.

“Nervous is a word I wouldn’t use to describe our players,” Thompson wrote in an email to the Daily.

However, despite the impressive wins, the biggest story coming out of the two games was the emergence of senior middle hitter Christina Nwankpa, who has been a staple of the Jumbo starting lineup this season. She finished the weekend stand with a total of 23 kills, leading her team in both games and equaling her career-high of 12 against Williams, resulting in her selection as the NESCAC Co-Player of the Week.

When asked about the success she had over the weekend, Nwankpa had only her teammates to thank.

“Our back row provided amazing passes and great communication all weekend,” Nwankpa wrote in an email to the Daily. “We were able to stay in system which allowed for our setters to run a very dynamic offense.”

First on the weekend for the Jumbos was a Friday night victory over the Hamilton Continentals, where they beat their opponents by three sets to none in front of a crowd of over 100. The first set proved to be tricky, as Hamilton attacked their way back from an eight-point deficit to cut the Tufts lead to two by the middle of the set. This phased neither Thompson nor the players, as, after a quick timeout, the Jumbos recaptured the momentum to take the first set 25–19.

“I have been impressed this season with our team’s composure whether they are ahead or behind in any match,” Thompson said. “This past weekend was no different.”

The composure of the team was further made evident throughout the match, as the team was able to navigate a tricky start to the second set. Hamilton started the set with the same aggressive way they had played through the first, as a string of kills left the Jumbos down 5–4. Once again, the Jumbos stayed composed and ignited an eight-point run and did not look back, winning the set comfortably 25–15.

By the third set, the Tufts attack proved to be too much for Hamilton, as the Jumbos opened the set with eight straight kills to go up 8–0. They did not let up in their attack and relentless pressure, ultimately winning the set and closing out the match 25–7.

Moving forward, the focus of the dominant Tufts volleyball team continues to be on each other. Thompson spoke about the mentality of the team and their thoughts on their undefeated record.

“We actually don’t focus at all on our record,” Thompson said. “Again 14-0 is a byproduct of doing our jobs every day and focusing on bettering our skill set.”

Nwankpa echoed the same sentiments, stating that for the Jumbos, it’s about the team and nothing more.

“We like to focus on the growth of our team connection and execution as a whole,” Nwankpa wrote. “We are more concerned with beating our best [than] falling to outside pressures.”

Up next for Tufts volleyball is a three-game away stretch against Clark University, Trinity and Brandeis University. All three teams are below .500, with records of 5–14, 7–8 and 4–12, respectively.

The scary thing about it all? Tufts is only looking to get better, which can serve as a warning to all their opponents to come.

“We still have a lot of work to do and aren’t playing our best ball yet,” Thompson said.