Volleyball upsets Jumbos in straight sets

There may have been doubters, but they were proven wrong on Sunday when volleyball (21-8) swept Tufts 3-0 in the NESCAC tournament championship. The team handily defeated Bowdoin and Conn. College in the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively on its way to its third straight NESCAC tournament crown, which also marked its seventh title in nine years.

The latest triumph did not come easily for Williams, however, as the team knocked off regionally ranked No. 1 Tufts in three emotionally charged sets 25-19, 29-27 and 32-30. Having previously lost three times to Tufts this season, it took a gutsy performance from the entire team to pull off the upset. “Our team stepped it up another level,” Head Coach Christi Kelsey said. “It was two great teams going all out for the championship, and that is what it is supposed to be all about.”

In the opening set, the potent Williams offense hit its stride early on, causing Tufts to falter under a barrage of hard driven hits. Rallying behind the strong swings of Kate Anderson ’11 and her team-leading 18 kills, the Ephs were able to run out a five-point lead 15-10. For the rest of the set the Ephs maintained their lead en route to the 25-19 victory.

Playing in front of a surprisingly pro-Williams crowd despite the match being held at Tufts, the Ephs entered the second game eager to press their advantage against the stunned Jumbos. Intimidated by Williams’ monstrous block, the Tufts women took to playing a scrappy game with tips, hoping to keep their opponents off balance. This proved relatively ineffective against the disciplined Ephs. A solo block by Eleanor Levine ’11 helped the Ephs break a late deadlock at 17-17 and run out a lead to 22-20.

Tufts fought back into the set, though, and an error by Anderson gave the Jumbos a 24-23 lead. Shaking off the momentary slump, however, Anderson then converted a kill to tie things up. Williams refused to crumble under the emotional pressure and responded to everything Tufts had to offer, taking the hard fought victory 29-27 off of an emphatic kill by Nicole Ballon-Landa ’11.

With the championship on the line, Tufts responded in set three, jumping out to an early lead. In the end though, Tufts’ inability to find a balanced attack proved to be its biggest flaw, with two hitters combining for a staggering 75 percent of their total kills. In contrast, Williams setter Emily Avis ’11 distributed the ball magnificently to the wealth of offensive talent at her disposal, with no less than five Ephs registering over five kills. Avis, ranked in the top 10 nationally in terms of assists per set, had 46 in the match.

Soon after tying up the score 17-17, Williams found itself in another hole, down 19-22. Refusing to yield, the Ephs dug deep to wrench the 32-30 victory and the NESCAC title. “The team just had a play-to-win attitude, and no matter what we came up against we knew we could handle it,” captain Chelsea Kubal ’10 said.
The run-up to the championship match, in contrast, was fairly routine, as Williams defeated first Bowdoin 3-1 (23-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-12) and then Conn. College 3-0 (25-20, 25-18, 27-25). Whereas the cracks in Tufts’ tournament armor already showed following nail-biting wins over Wesleyan and Amherst, the Ephs revealed no such weakness over the weekend. “We came in focused on Bowdoin, then Conn., and finally Tufts . . . This tournament was a huge gut check for our team, and we pulled it out,” said Kubal.

In the win against Bowdoin the Ephs were led once again by Anderson and her 16 kills, while Whitney Hitchcock ’10 added in another 12. Defensive stalwart Andrea Scioscia ’10 had a team leading 24 digs for the Ephs. Against Conn. College Anderson had 14 kills while Hitchcock and Ballon-Landa both tallied 10. Scioscia had 23 digs.

For her defensive efforts Scioscia was named NESCAC Player of the Week, averaging 6.5 digs per set over the course of the tournament. She ranks fifth in the NESCAC in digs per set. Anderson ranks first in kills per set with 4.73 and fourth in hitting percentage.

Looking ahead, Williams has drawn Emerson College in the first round of the NCAA tournament, to be held at Tufts tomorrow. “We are going to focus on [the tournament] one match at a time as we have done all season,” Kelsey said.

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