Volleyball | A year of experience, growth for Jumbos
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 9, 2012 01:11
The volleyball team’s tri-captains Kendall Lord, Kiersten Ellfesen and Natalie Bruck will all graduate this spring, leaving behind a team that finished the season at .500 with a mix of tough losses and definitive wins. But as the Jumbos try to solidify their position in the NESCAC, these three seniors will graduate having led long, prolific careers under coach Cora Thompson.
“I think overall it has been such a positive experience,” Lord said. “I have really grown throughout my years as a player from freshman to senior year. I’ve played under great captains and with amazing teammates, so I’m really sad to go, but I hope I can leave a legacy for the girls that I had the honor of being captain of.”
In many ways this season was a rebuilding year for the Jumbos, who finished in second place in the NESCAC last year. But Tufts came out of the gate on fire, defeating non-conference opponents Rhode Island College and Brandeis. Following a loss to Wellesley, though, the team’s chronic inconsistency began to set in. Tufts could not compile a winning streak of more than three games, and key in-conference losses later in the season against Bowdoin, Williams and Middlebury hurt the Jumbos’ chances for success.
But at the same time, Tufts demonstrated outstanding resilience all season long. An impressive victory against Conn. College, a strong showing against nationally ranked No. 5 Christopher Newport in the Beacons Invitational and most impressively, the match against Springfield in the MIT Invitational proved just what the Jumbos were capable of.
“The match against Springfield showed us we were able to play at a really high level,” sophomore middle blocker Isabel Kuhel said. “Before that, we didn’t have a high level of competition. It showed us we were able to compete with really great teams, despite the loss.”
Even as the regular season began to wind down, the team was in contention for the top spot in the NESCAC, but a lack of mental fortitude led to an early end that the seniors were not expecting.
“This year was a struggle,” Lord said. “Every game we tried to start fresh and really just play. I grew a lot just from the challenges of a different, tough season, a different type of team. This was a different challenge from previous years.”
Lord finished her last season as a Jumbo with a team-high 8.88 assists per set, good for third in the NESCAC. The center of the Jumbos’ offensive attack, Lord earned All-NESCAC honors for the third time, adding another accolade to her seemingly endless collection that includes 2011 NESCAC Co-Player of the Year.
Ellefsen, one of many strong attacking outside hitters for Tufts, finished the season fifth in kills on the team with 76 in 58 sets. Meanwhile, Bruck played the role of defensive specialist, finishing fifth in digs on the team with 114.
And while these accomplished seniors will go out without a NESCAC championship under their belt after a disappointing first-round loss to Bowdoin, they will leave behind a legacy of success and the knowledge that thanks to their efforts, the team has made great strides toward a becoming a consistent contender for the NESCAC title.
“They are a great group of girls, very talented. They can only go up from here,” Lord said. “I think that there is some groundwork to be a great team, very cohesive. I’m not worried about them carrying on the tradition of Tufts volleyball.”
Despite losing three integral personalities to the team, Tufts will be full of seasoned veterans next year. The Jumbos will return more than a few strong players, including All-NESCAC second team selection sophomore Kelly Brennan, who led the team offensively and was third in the NESCAC with 3.15 kills per set.
Other key contributors who will be asked to play bigger roles next year are sophomores Haley Hopper, who finished second on the team in kills, and Kuhel, who led the team in blocks this year and was the 2011 NESCAC Rookie of the Year.
As the team’s only current junior, libero Virginia Clay, who led the team defensively with 269 digs, will have to step up and provide leadership for the aspiring Jumbos.
The potential for next year’s team is undeniable, as many players gained invaluable experience from this year’s hard-fought matches. The confidence that leaving seniors like Lord have for the future of the team is echoed in the mindsets of next year’s rising stars.