Volleyball | Coming back home, Tufts goes 1-3 in Beacons Invitational
Published: Monday, October 15, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 15, 2012 08:10
Although Tufts was back in Cousens Gymnasium after a long trip to Maine last weekend, the homecoming did not provide much solace for the Jumbos against tough competition.
Due to issues with the UMass Boston gymnasium, the Jumbos hosted the Beacons Invitational this weekend and squared off against arguably their toughest opponents yet, including both regional and national championship contenders. In the end, the only match the Jumbos managed to win was a NESCAC game against Hamilton, while the tougher tournament competition proved that Tufts still has to improve if it wants to challenge the best.
Tufts started the weekend with a critical in-conference home matchup against Hamilton College. Although the match was not a part of the invitational tournament, Tufts captured a key victory on Senior Night to improve to 6-2 in the NESCAC.
The Continentals stuck around throughout each set, yet the Jumbos were able to control the tempo and shut their opponents out in straight sets. Despite occasional lapses in defense and returning serves, the Jumbos bounced back and continued the ball distribution that makes them an offensive juggernaut.
“I think certainly, for our setters, making sure they’re reversing the flows and spreading the ball to all of our hitters — I think that’s important,” coach Cora Thompson said. “When we do that, we get one-on-ones, and our hitters are pretty good when they only have one blocker up.”
The Jumbos executed their strategy effectively, as senior tri-captain setter Kendall Lord recorded a match-high 33 assists and sophomore outside hitter Kelly Brennan picked up a team-high 18 kills.
Despite starting the weekend in dominating fashion, the Jumbos ran into teams of a much higher caliber in the Beacons Invitational. They faced two nationally ranked opponents, No. 23 Southwestern (Texas) and No. 4 Christopher Newport, as well as a tough Endicott Gulls team.
Tufts’ tournament began against Southwestern on Saturday morning. Right from the start, the Pirates proved themselves a much bigger test for the Jumbos than Hamilton, controlling the first set and winning easily 25-10.
Although the Jumbos were able to pull together and compete in the next two sets, taking occasional short leads and pulling within three points in the third, Southwestern closed off the match in straight sets, finishing with 25-19 and 25-22 wins.
The Saturday afternoon match against Endicott ended in a disappointing 3-1 loss, as the Jumbos dropped the first two sets, 26-24 and 25-18, to start the match. Tufts managed to fight back and win the third set 25-23 before losing a tightly contested fourth set 27-25.
Once again, the Jumbos demonstrated not only their depth, but also their perseverance and grit that kept them fighting after being down 2-0. The Jumbos appeared to be on the brink of taking a lead numerous times, but they couldn’t quite pull together in big moments.
“[In the Endicott match], we had a couple more mistakes, a couple more communication errors that really cost us the game,” Lord said.
Defensive struggles also prevented the Jumbos from fully utilizing their strong hitters.
“No matter what we do offensively, it always depends on our defense,” Thompson said. “When our serve receive and our ball control start to break down, that’s when we start losing options.”
The Jumbos were almost able to send the game to a fifth set in an emotional fourth set. Down 20-16, they fought back to a 21-21 tie and proceeded to take the lead at 23-22. The teams tied again at 23-23, 24-24 and 25-25, as the Jumbos took points on spikes from Brennan before the Gulls would fight back to tie it up.
After a controversial point that would have given the Jumbos the set was replayed, Endicott went on to win the next two points and take the set and match.
And yet, as quickly as the team’s mental fortitude broke down, it built right back up in the following match Sunday against the No. 4 team in the country, Christopher Newport. Despite losing the match 3-0 to a very talented team, the Jumbos were a much more relaxed and put-together team in comparison to Saturday’s squad.
“I thought we really stepped it up from the beginning of the week to the very last game,” Lord said. “We adjusted our speed, we played fast. We were really challenging them on our serve, with our hits, with our defense — we played great defense. I’m just really happy with how we played.”
The Jumbos, despite a great display of effort and composure, could not quite match up to the size and depth of the captains. Tufts stuck around in the first two sets of the match, losing 25-15 and 25-19, before a dominant third set for Christopher Newport in which the Jumbos fell 25-9. Nonetheless, Tufts was able to come out with little apprehension and give a stellar opponent a run for its money.
“I think that we came out with a completely different attitude today and we really played loose because we felt like we had nothing to lose,” Brennan said. “Today was a great example for us as a team that we can come right out of the gates. This game teaches us that we can play with the best teams in the country.”