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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Volleyball tops field at New England Challenge with three victories

With consecutive victories over Springfield, Babson and MIT, Tufts swept the New England Challenge tournament to improve its overall record to 14–8.

Tufts faced then-No. 21 MIT in its third tournament game, looking to lock up an undefeated record for the weekend. The first set proved to be a back-and-forth battle, as the teams stayed within a few points of each other, until MIT began to pull away with five consecutive points to take a 19–13 lead. The Jumbos responded, however, reeling off five points of their own to close the gap to one point before leveling the game at 23-all. However, the Engineers ultimately claimed the set with a kill from senior outside hitter and co-captain Abby Bertics followed by an attacking error by Jumbo junior outside hitter and co-captain Maddie Stewart.

Tufts dominated the second set from start to finish, leading by as many as 11 points when sophomore middle hitter Jennifer Ryan and junior middle hitter Christina Nwankpa blocked an MIT attack to open a 23–12 advantage. The Jumbos cruised to a 10-point win, 25–15, to level the match 1–1. Their domination continued into the final two sets which they won handily, 25–19 and 25–20, to clinch the victory.

The loss was MIT's fourth on the season, as it moved to 22–4. First-year outside hitter Cate Desler led Tufts with 11 kills, followed closely by Stewart who totaled 10 kills. Desler and Nwankpa led the Jumbos with five blocks each.

Junior outside hitter Brigid Bell spoke about the significance of Tufts' win over MIT.

“MIT is a super consistent and talented team and we knew going into it that, just like all the other games that we played this weekend, it was going to be a challenging and competitive match,” Bell told the Daily in an email. “I think to a certain extent, we just turned our brains off and let our instincts kick in. We made adjustments and shook off mistakes easily. I think another place where we found some success was in our serving game.”

Earlier that day, Tufts faced Babson in another four-setter. In the first frame, Tufts began to pull away with three consecutive points behind Desler’s serve, including one ace. The Beavers claimed a single point before the Jumbos went on a four-point run to open up a 15–7 lead. Babson was unable to close the gap, and Tufts won the set 25–17.

Tufts held a four-point lead, 23–19, toward the end of the second set, but Babson retaliated with six consecutive points via three kills and three aces to steal the set. The third set was another close battle throughout, with both sides going on scoring streaks to keep the score close. With the Jumbos down 20–18, senior outside hitter and co-captain Mackenzie Bright recorded two straight kills to draw the teams even. After service errors by both sides leveled the score at 21, the teams traded points until they tied the score at 25–25. With the critical third set on the line, Stewart and Bright earned back-to-back kills, respectively, to clinch it for Tufts, 27–25.

“Team energy was still really high coming into the Babson game [from the game against Springfield],” Desler told the Daily in an email. “Going into the third set, we knew Babson was going to come at us with all that they had, so our mindset was just to make them earn their points and try to win the ball control game.”

With momentum from their third-set victory, the Jumbos dominated the fourth set from start to finish, winning 25–11 to take the match, 3–1. Desler and Bright led the team with 15 kills each against Babson.

“I think that throughout the whole weekend, we played with grit,” Bell said. “Babson is one of those teams that runs a really effective offense and is a very skilled and seasoned group of players. I think focusing on executing the adjustments we talked about making was big. We worked really hard to communicate what was happening on the other side of the net and what we were doing on our side.”

Tufts faced Springfield in its first game of the tournament on Friday. The teams traded points to start the first set until Bell's kill opened a 14–12 lead. Soon after, the Jumbos earned seven straight points to widen the gap, as they ultimately took the set, 25–14.  Tufts maintained its momentum into the second set, taking an early 4–0 lead. While the Pride stayed within striking distance, the Jumbos ultimately wrapped up a 25–20 second-set victory.

“We had really great communication and energy throughout the entire match,” Desler said. “We also did a great job of adjusting to what Springfield was doing well. Because we played so well together as a team, our energy carried through to the rest of the matches later in the weekend.”

Tufts clinched victory in the third and final set, dominating Springfield on the way to a 25–12 victory. Bright and Bell each finished the game with a team-high seven kills.

The Jumbos head into the weekend with just two games left in their regular season, both against NESCAC opponents. Tufts currently sits tied for fourth in the conference with Middlebury but does not hold the head-to-head tiebreaker between the two teams. The Jumbos' eventual seeding will depend on the results of their home matches against the Conn. College Camels (10–13) and the Wesleyan Cardinals (15–3) on Friday and Saturday, respectively.