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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Tufts finishes first in NESCAC

Senior middle hitter Isabel Kuhel jumps at the net in a 3-0 win over Wesleyan on October 10, 2014.

Needing to win both of its weekend games to guarantee its first NESCAC title since 2009, the Tufts volleyball team succeeded with a pair of road wins to close out the regular season. Tufts rolled over Hamilton and Middlebury to improve its conference record to 9-1 and secure first place in the NESCAC. The 19-7 Jumbos, who haven't lost since Oct. 4, rode a 10-game win streak through the end of the season.

"Clinching this weekend was certainly a wonderful tribute to all of their hard work and dedication thus far," coach Cora Thompson said. "I was extremely proud of our team for battling with two tough opponents. Our team controlled the tempo of both matches, and really kept the pressure on Hamilton and Middlebury by challenging them defensively with our offense."

Tufts clinched the top seed in the NESCAC tournament with Saturday's four-set win at Middlebury. The Jumbos got off to a fast start in the first set, scoring six of the first nine points en route to a 25-16 victory. The Panthers started the second set strong with five of the first six points, but then unraveled, allowing the Jumbos to put together a momentum-shifting run in which they scored 12 of the next 15 points. Tufts cruised from there, winning 25-13.

Middlebury won the third set 25-20 to stave off defeat, and was neck-and-neck with Tufts in the fourth set, as the two teams split the first 34 points with neither side leading by more than three. But the Jumbos put the match away with a strong finishing kick, going on an 8-2 run to earn the 25-19 win. They were led offensively by senior tri-captain Hayley Hopper and junior Maddie Kuppe, who tallied 17 kills apiece. Junior Kyra Baum racked up 48 assists, and senior tri-captain Isabel Kuhel chipped in with 11 kills to go along with two solo blocks and five block assists. Kuhel was aided defensively by junior Carolina Berger's match-high 20 digs.

Thompson was pleased with her team's defensive effort against the Panthers, particularly Berger's. She also credited Tufts's block defense, which led the NESCAC with 2.3 blocks per set this year.

"Defensively, we did a nice job keeping ourselves in system, allowing us to run our offense the way we wanted to run it," Thompson said. "Carolina Berger did an excellent job leading our defensive effort, especially against Middlebury, who challenged us consistently. I was also very proud of our blockers ... Our block has been huge all season, and they are only getting stronger."

Tufts trumped Hamilton on Friday night, winning the match in three straight sets. The Jumbos jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the first set and never looked back, cruising to a 25-15 victory. The Continentals took their only lead of the match in the second set, going up 6-5 early on, but the Jumbos fought back to tie the score at 10-10 before pulling away with a 7-1 run. Hamilton rallied to bring the score to 23-20, but Tufts finished off the set with an unassisted kill from sophomore Elizabeth Ahrens and a service ace from Berger. The third and final set was a repeat of the first, with the Jumbos winning by an identical 25-15 score.

Tufts dominated Hamilton on both sides of the net, outhitting the home team .225 to -.033 in kill percentage and running up sizable advantages in blocks (14 to 2) and digs (56 to 47). First-year Katie Kim paced the offense with a match-high 10 kills without an error in 17 attempts, resulting in a stellar .588 hitting percentage.Kuhel anchored the defense, leading all players with 10 blocks, while Baum recorded a team-high 14 digs and 31 assists.Hopper and fellow senior tri-captain Jessica Ingrum were major contributors on both sides of the net with eight kills and 10 digs apiece.

"It feels great to be in the top [NESCAC] spot coming out of this weekend,” Kuhel said. “I really think the team earned it by playing consistently good volleyball ... and I think we proved what we are capable of."

Tufts will host the NESCAC tournament this weekend, and will begin play against eighth-seeded Trinity at 5 p.m. on Friday. The Jumbos hope to ride their momentum to their first-ever tournament title, and will have the benefit of playing on their home court, where they are a perfect 7-0 this year.