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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, June 21, 2024

Jumbos fall to Panthers in NESCAC quarterfinal

After a teammate's set, Tufts junior outside hitter Mary Maccabee prepares to return the ball to the Springfield College side on Wednesday, Sept. 9.

Tufts saw its season end with a loss at the hands of Middlebury on Friday, Nov. 6.In their NESCAC quarterfinal rematch, the Jumbos fell three sets to one, knocking the team out of the conference tournament.

After the loss, the only way for Tufts' season to continue would have been through an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The team ultimately did not make the 64-team field, and thus ended the season with a 17-8 record overall, including 7-3 in conference play. The winner of the NESCAC, Bowdoin, earned a bid automatically.

The final match of the Jumbos’ season came in a tough defeat at the hands of the Panthers. Tufts had closed out the regular season with a loss to Middlebury, and, according to first-year Katie Zheng, the team was fired up to have a second shot.

"Middlebury played incredibly well; they were in system and did all the right things," Zheng told the Daily in an email. "I think playing them so recently had totally affected the match because we were out for vengeance and played with our hearts out on the floor. There was so much fire and it honestly might've been the best match we've played all year, but it just didn't work out for us."
Playing in Brunswick, M.E. at the home of top-seeded Bowdoin, Tufts got off to a good start, holding a 10-7 lead. Middlebury, however, fought back and took the lead. Tufts closed the gap to a single point at 22-21, but Middlebury was able to finish off the set with three straight points, including an ace and kill from sophomore Becca Raffel.

“Middlebury played very well against us; good passing and serving...[and] taking care of the ball, [and] they did an excellent job of minimizing their errors,” senior Maddie Kuppe told the Daily in an email.

The Panthers led throughout the second set and won it comfortably. The margin between the two sides was as large as 12 at 19-7 in favor of Middlebury. Tufts was able to cut into the deficit slightly, and eventually pulled within four at 24-20. However, after calling a timeout following four straight Tufts points, Middlebury was able to put the set away and go up 2-0 in the match.

With their backs against the wall, the Jumbos flipped the script for the match’s third set. On the serve of first-year Angela Yu, Tufts jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the third, and did not relinquish it. Although Middlebury closed the gap slightly, Tufts led comfortably throughout the set and eventually won it 25-19.

The fourth set again saw the Jumbos take an early lead, but the Panthers drew even at 5-5 before pulling ahead. The teams remained close for much of the set until a point for Tufts drew them within two at 17-15. Middlebury won eight of the next nine points (including five straight) to close out the set and match, 25-16.

Although the loss was Tufts' fourth out of its season's last five games, the season was, on the whole, an impressive one. The team got off to a decent 4-3 start, but hit a dominant second gear about a third of the way into the season.

Over a stretch lasting almost a full month -- from Sept. 25 against Conn. College to Oct. 23 against Wellesley -- Tufts finished with a remarkable 12-1 record. The span included an impressive 5-1 record against NESCAC opponents and an eight-match winning streak.

"I think we had a great season overall, with many great moments and some not-so-great moments, but that's okay because that's what we need to grow," Zheng said.

While the season did not end in a way the Jumbos would have liked, Kuppe, one of four graduating seniors, has high hopes for the team next season.

“We had an incredible depth of talent on this year's team, so I anticipate a really strong squad for the 2016 season," Kuppe said. "It's going to be great to see what these girls can do next year."

Zheng is also confident in the future of the program, fueled by returning players and successful recruiting by coach Cora Thompson.

"This program just gets better and better," Zheng said. "Coach [Cora] Thompson does such a great job with recruiting and bringing in more new talent, and the rest of the returning players are so talented, motivated and goal-driven. We will miss all of our incredible seniors dearly, for they were such key components in our program and such great leaders on and off the court. But I can't wait to see what future Tufts Volleyball will have."

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