Volleyball caps off historic regular season with 3 weekend wins

Senior middle/opposite hitter Heather Holz serves the ball during a game against Springfield on Oct. 18, 2018. Courtesy Julia McDowell for Tufts University

Over Halloweekend, the No. 14 Tufts volleyball team served up some tricks and treats for its home fans, closing out their regular season with three home wins.

The final match of the weekend and of the entire regular season proved to be the toughest of the three, as the Jumbos faced off against the Hunter Hawks. The first two sets seemed to be relatively easy for the Jumbos, as senior outside/opposite hitter and co-captain Brigid Bell led the team to finish her fine form over the weekend with a number of key passes and kills that heavily contributed to the Jumbos’ success. The first set saw the Jumbos ease past the Hawks, going on two big runs at the start and the middle of the set to win it 25–11. The second featured the same as well, with a big 7-point run at 8–7 fueling the 25–12 second set victory.

Where things got tricky for the Jumbos was in the third set, where a handful of Tufts errors gave Hunter an opportunity to mount a comeback. The Hawks and Jumbos went back and forth for the better part of the start of the third set, with neither playing a particularly clean set. However, it was then at 14–12 when the Hawks made their lead known, making a number of vital kills and going on a suffocating run where they won 11 of the last 13 points. They had seized their opportunity and stole the third set 25–14, never trailing once in the set.

In a blink of an eye, the Jumbos suddenly had a fight on their hands as this was the first set they dropped in their last 17 sets of play. However, never once for a second did they doubt themselves, coming out with new energy and new life and pummeling the Hawks in the fourth set, closing it out with a statement 25–10 scoreline and wrapping up their season with an incredible and historic 24–1 record.

The first of the Saturday doubleheader was against the 9–20 Colby Mules. The match, for the most part, was smooth sailing for the Jumbos, with Bell and senior outside/opposite hitter and co-captain Maddie Stewart leading the attack for the Jumbos. Their dominance was consistent throughout the entire match, with the only Mule lead coming at 3–2 in the first set. The first set was not entirely safe to start, with Tufts holding on to a 3-point lead by the middle of the first set. However, from that point onward, the Jumbos used their strong attack to continue their sublime form and close out the set 25–16.

The second and third sets featured much of the same, with a mixture of kills and Colby errors to give Tufts a large margin to begin both sets. In both sets, the Jumbos jumped out to 8–2 leads and never gave the Mules a chance to respond, leaving them with no breathing room as they cruised to win the second and third sets 25–13 and 25–15, respectively.

Their first game of the weekend was the annual Dig Pink game on Friday night, playing the 16–9 Bates Bobcats. Cousens Gymnasium was covered in pink and white to celebrate the occasion, raising money for Living Beyond Breast Cancer.

For the players, it was an opportunity for them to step back from their busy lives and contribute to a larger cause. Stewart wrote about the experience in an email to the Daily.

“Having a chance to play for something bigger than ourselves is always an incredible opportunity and something we look forward to every season,” Stewart said.

The first set began as a close back and forth affair, with the set locked at 15–15 in the middle of the first set. It wasn’t a particularly clean set from both teams either; both the Jumbos and Bobcats committed a handful of service errors, bad sets and attack errors that led to the set’s close affair. The Bobcats also took a different approach to their attack, taking in the Halloween spirit by using a lot of trickery in their attack. Rather than going up for powerful spikes, they often found space behind the middle and outside blockers by simply lofting it over them. It was a different approach, but it was never enough to rattle Tufts. When it mattered the most, the Jumbos were able to keep their composure and clean up their game, rattling off five straight points at 15–15 to create a bit of distance from the Bobcats through a mix of both kills from senior middle/opposite hitter Heather Holz and errors from Bates. They never looked back after that, winning the first set 25–18.

In the second set, the Jumbos looked determined to not let this set be as close as the first, as they came out with a fierce attack and never trailed in the set. They came out with a fierce attack, winning 9 out of their first 11 points from kills to lead the Bobcats 11–6. They then ramped up their blitz on Bates, going on a 6–0 run to create an ultimately insurmountable lead. By the end, it was kills thanks to junior middle/opposite hitter Jennifer Ryan and senior middle/opposite hitter Christina Nwankpa that closed the set out 25–14.

The third set saw the Jumbos ride their momentum to an immense 10-point lead to start the set. With their intensity still high, the Jumbo attack seemed to demoralize the Bobcats completely. The signs had all pointed to a breeze of a third set, but late in the third set, with Tufts leading 22–10, the Bobcats suddenly came to life and rattled off 8 of the next 10 points with the help of a couple errors from Tufts and a service ace. However, the comeback was quickly thwarted as Ryan, who finished the game with eight kills, emphatically finished off the match with a kill to win the set for the Jumbos 25–18 and ultimately the match three sets to zero.

While Senior Night was celebrated two weeks ago, the final home games of the season were a lot to take in for the seniors on the team.

“It feels surreal to have finished my last ever regular-season game. I suppose it is quite true that time flies when you are having fun,” Stewart said.

For first-year opposite hitter/defensive specialist Anna Nachmanoff, their presence was truly felt throughout every part of their season.

“I have learned so much from the seniors and other upperclassman both on and off the court so far… all five of them are leaders in their own way,” Nachmanoff wrote in an email to the Daily.

While these last three games have meant a lot to the team, there is still work to be done for them. By clinching the best record in the NESCAC with a perfect 10–0 record in conference play, the conference tournament will be held at the Cousens gymnasium with the first game of the postseason being against Hamilton on Friday at 5 p.m. From there, they will hope to win the NESCAC tournament to qualify for the NCAA tournament. For the Jumbos, the journey is just getting started.