Volleyball | Volleyball team returns talented young core
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012 07:09
Last season, the volleyball team’s bread and butter was unquestionably its attack. Led by an imposing net game and crafty play from setter and co-NESCAC player of the year Kendall Lord, Tufts enjoyed a second-place finish in the NESCAC and a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. The squad, which finished 2011 with a 26-6 record, fell to Springfield in the Regional Championship Game after winning nine of its previous 10 games.
“The last couple of weeks [of the season] were two of the best weekends of our season,” said sophomore outside hitter Kelly Brennan, who had an impressive freshman campaign, finishing eighth in the conference with three kills per game. “We were such a young team and our senior leadership really was a key to our success, especially because, for the freshmen, [it was] their first experience in such a pressure situation.”
Fast forward to 2012, when last year’s trip to the NCAA round-of-32 will inspire arguably the most talented young core of players in the NESCAC to aim for the “Sweet 16.” In addition to Lord and Brennan, the Jumbos return 6-foot-1 NESCAC rookie of the year Isabel Kuhel, who led the conference in blocks per game, and fellow sophomore outside hitter Hayley Hopper.
The trio of Brennan, Kuhel and Hopper anchored a front line last season that finished second in the NESCAC in both kills and blocks while also sporting an impressive 20.5 hitting percentage. This is a testament to both the recruiting of coach Cora Thompson and the raw talent of the young players.
“We returned a lot of really good players,” said Lord, who is also a tri-captain this year. “The great thing about the team this year is we have experience. We lost some great, great players, but we also returned a lot of great players. I’m really excited with the potential we have right now.”
“In the Springfield game, I think it came down to experience at that level and half the people on the court had never been to NCAAs,” Brennan added, referring to the team’s defeat in the National Championship tournament last year. “This year, having that experience under our belt will help us that much more when the time comes.”
One of the Jumbos’ major focuses heading into the season is to maintain the unique team camaraderie on which the 2011 team thrived. Graduated are last year’s tri-captains Audrey Quan (LA ’12), Lexi Nicholas (LA ’12) and Cara Spieler (LA ’12), whose leadership proved crucial on such a young team, especially since the trio were standout contributors on many areas of the court.
“Communication and team chemistry will be really important for us this year,” Brennan said. “Last year we got along so well off the court and it transferred onto the court. We felt so comfortable playing next to everyone, no matter who it was. We’ve been focused so far on getting the freshmen up to speed in our team. We lost a few key players from last year so there are definitely some big shoes to fill.”
The Jumbos open their season this weekend at the Brandeis Invitational, a tournament that they won in dominating fashion a season ago, before they begin their NESCAC schedule against Trinity on Sept. 14.
“I expect us to do great things,” Lord said. “I’m very excited for this team; I think we can go really far. Everyone is really driven.”
“We have very high expectations of ourselves this year,” Brennan added. “We need to take it one game at a time, but if we stay strong throughout the season we will go as far as we want.”