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

Tufts splits NCAA Tournament games

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Junior setter Kyra Baum sets the ball to senior middle hitter Isabel Kuhel in the team's 3-2 loss to Williams in the NESCAC Championship Final on Nov. 9.

The Tufts volleyball team won its first game in the NCAA tournament since 2011 over the weekend, scoring a first-round victory over Springfield College before bowing out after a hard-fought second round loss against Clarkson University.

"We went into this weekend knowing the importance of these matches as well as knowing the mental and physical challenges we would face and have to overcome," 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 Springfield and Clarkson by challenging them defensively with our offense."

Making their seventh NCAA appearance in program history, the Jumbos traveled to Hoboken, N.J. for the Stevens Regional. Tufts was eliminated after Saturday's second-round loss to Clarkson in four sets. Tufts did not get off to a good start, dropping the first set 25-15. The Jumbos played better in the second set, posting their highest hitting percentage of the match at .269, but still lost 25-20. Tufts avoided the sweep with a 25-22 victory in the third set, only to be eliminated in heartbreaking fashion after narrowly losing the fourth set by the same score. The fourth set was equally close, tied at 19-19 before Clarkson closed it out with a 6-3 run.

Tufts fell to Clarkson for the second time this year, with the other loss coming on Sept. 5 at the Colorado Classic. The Jumbos played better this time around, but it was not enough to overcome the No. 15 ranked Golden Knights. Senior tri-captain Isabel Kuhel and sophomore Elizabeth Ahrens combined for all 12 of Tufts' blocks, posting six apiece. Junior Carolina Berger helped anchor the defense with a team-high 19 digs, while classmate Maddie Kuppe paced the offense with 12 kills.

"Berger did an excellent job leading our defensive effort, especially against Clarkson, who challenged us consistently," Thompson said. "I was also very proud of our blockers, who forced Springfield and Clarkson to change up their offensive plans in order to stay in the match with us. Our block has been huge all season."

The Jumbos started the weekend strong with a three-set sweep of Springfield College on Friday, exacting revenge on the team that eliminated them from the second round of NCAAs in 2011 and beat them most recently at the MIT Invitational in September. This match proved much easier for the Jumbos, who won each set with a double digit margin of victory and nearly doubled their opponents' point total (75 to 38). Tufts statistically dominated Springfield, outhitting the opponents .344 to -.048 and totaling more blocks, digs and aces en route to a quick victory.

Kuhel and fellow senior tri-captain Hayley Hopper -- Tufts' two representatives on the All-NESCAC first team and American Volleyball Coaches Association's All-Region team -- were both in top form. Kuhel recorded 12 kills, a match-high, in 17 attempts without making an error, good for a lofty .706 hitting percentage. She notched the game-ending kill, her sixth of the third set, in addition to leading both sides with three blocks and three service aces. Hopper had 11 kills in 24 tries for a .292 hitting percentage. They were aided by Kuppe, the third Jumbo in double-digit kills with 10, and junior Kyra Baum, who compiled 32 assists.

"This weekend was so exciting for TUVB, and we loved the high energy competitive volleyball all weekend," Ahrens said.

The Tufts team, which finished second in the NESCAC after losing the championship game to Williams, won 13 of its last 15 games to end the season with a NESCAC-best 22-9 record.