Volleyball falls to MIT in NCAA Sweet Sixteen

Tufts volleyball team gathers during a timeout against Bates on Oct. 8. Elin Shih / The Tufts Daily
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The Jumbo volleyball postseason campaign was cut short this past weekend in the Sweet Sixteen. After winning the NESCAC title and earning host privileges, the team took down Johnson & Wales on Thursday and Babson on Friday. On Saturday, however, the No. 18 ranked MIT Engineers prevailed in a hard fought, energetic Sweet Sixteen battle. The Jumbos end their season with an impressive 23–6 overall record, 9–1 conference record, a NESCAC title and a third round finish in the NCAA tournament. Junior setter Maddie Yu said she is proud of the team’s season.

“Right after that MIT match it was pretty emotional because it was our last game with the seniors,” Yu said. “But I think, looking back, and our coach really emphasized it, there’s so much to be proud of over the season. We had an insane schedule, [we] played so many ranked teams and did so well, came home and got to host regionals. … Big congrats to the seniors because they had such a big influence over this team.”

On Thursday night, the Jumbos came out strong. With high energy and home court advantage, they convincingly defeated Johnson and Wales in three sets (25–18, 25–13, 25–20). Junior outside hitter Rileigh Farragher commented on the atmosphere’s contribution to the Jumbo win. 

“We were just really excited to have the chance to go to playoffs and play at home,” Farragher said. “A lot of people’s families were coming. The energy was super high and even against a really good team, we were able to just play through.”

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Tufts’ offense steadily controlled the offensive pace of the game, dominating Johnson & Wales in nearly every statistical category. Senior outside hitter Jennelle Yarwood posted 13 kills for the night and junior outside hitter Christine Audette tagged on 11 of her own. First-year setter Zoe Gregory and Yu were both consistent as per usual with 18 and 17 assists respectively.

Coming off a demanding victory in the first round, the Jumbos carried the momentum into their Friday game against the Babson Beavers, winning the first set (25–19) and fighting for a second set victory (28–26). The two teams exchanged the lead deep into the second set, going into extra points until a kill by Yarwood followed by another by Audette finally gave them the win. While the Jumbos took care of the Beavers in the regular season in just three sets, the Beavers were not letting their season end easily. The next two sets would be won by Babson (25–15, 25–16). But, as they have the entire season, the Jumbos thrived in the fifth set. Farragher talked about the reset heading into the fifth.

“The third and fourth sets were kind of a wake up call for us,” Farragher said. “We know we’re a really good team, but also so is Babson. We can’t underestimate them or get complacent with how we’re playing. We have to bring 100% against them, and so I think we just realized it’s now or never, time to go.”

The Jumbos secured and maintained momentum for the entirety of the fifth set, winning 15–9 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Yarwood led in the kill category again with 16 and Farragher added 10 on her own. Senior libero Stephanie Lee posted an impressive 27 digs, acting as a defensive wall for the Jumbos. Yu contributed 17 digs in addition to her 27 assists. 

Since the regional bracket was released earlier that week, the Jumbos knew they would be facing tough competition in the MIT Engineers in order to advance. MIT defeated them in three sets earlier this year, giving the Jumbos just one of their five losses of the regular season. In the three sets they played Saturday, the Engineers dealt the Jumbos a similar fate. Despite a packed Cousens Gymnasium and a fired up Jumbo roster looking for redemption, the Engineers’ block was strong and their hitters were swinging with strength and conviction. Yarwood reflected on the match.

“MIT is a very talented team,” Yarwood said. “They definitely gave us a run for our money. … We did a lot of things really well, but I think we were overpowered by some of their hitters and they’re a very big blocking team so a lot of credit to them. They just kind of outplayed us ultimately.”

The Jumbos stayed within themselves, composed and fired up for the entirety of the three sets. However, the Engineers continued to increase their leads as the match went on, up 13–6 at one point in the third set. Despite the deficit, the fight never left the side of the Brown and Blue, with parents and the bench alike chanting in support. On match point, their season just one play away from ending, MIT had a service error, keeping the Jumbos alive. Although the likelihood that Tufts would win the next six points in a row and stay alive, Farragher was noticeably hyped up. This persistent energy as their season was ending before their eyes is a testament to how the team fought all season, taking on a tough schedule of opponents and defeating a team they had lost to in the regular season to win a NESCAC championship. 

Yarwood and Lee were selected to the All-NCAA Regional Team, finishing their senior seasons on a high. Yarwood commented on the end of her last season of volleyball. 

“It’s definitely crazy that it’s over,” Yarwood said. “It’s been my life since second grade. I’m very grateful for all the girls that I’ve gotten to play with and meet along the way. It’s been a really great four years and we’ve accomplished so many great things. I’ve learned so many life lessons and really how to value working hard. So overall, I’m very sad it’s over but so much to be grateful for.”

Reflecting on the season and looking ahead to her final year, Yu said she is already pumped for next season. 

“I am so excited,” Yu said. “We’re obviously losing a lot of seniors, but we also have a big incoming senior class. I think we will really be able to shape the team. We have a lot of freshmen coming in so I think we’re going to have a lot of new options. I think it’s going to be an exciting senior year.”

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