BRUNSWICK, Maine – For the first time in program history the Tufts volleyball team beat Middlebury in NESCAC Tournament play. The fifth-seeded Jumbos downed the fourth-seeded Panthers, 3-0, on Friday night in NESCAC Quarterfinal play on the campus of Bowdoin College.
|Christina Nwankpa finished with five kills and six blocks for Tufts|
With the win the Jumbos advance to take on top-seeded Bowdoin in semifinal play on Saturday at 1 pm. The Jumbos were edged, 3-2, by the Polar Bears during regular season play. Bowdoin beat eighth-seeded Trinity, 3-0, in quarterfinal play earlier on Friday.
The first set on Friday night was the closest of the three, as the two teams traded points early, but the Panthers held on to a two-point lead for most of the first set. Down 18-16 the Jumbos took advantage of a couple of Panther setting errors and then got an ace from sophomore Sophia Acker and a kill from junior co-captain Maddie Stewart to take a 20-18 lead. The Panthers came back and tied things at 21, and the two teams traded points. With the score locked at 25 the Jumbos got a kill from junior Christina Nwankpa and then another Panther error gave them a 27-25 win in set one.
The Jumbos grabbed an early lead in set two, leading by four, 8-4, early on. Down 14-9 the Panthers got a kill from Isabel Sessions, and then a couple of Jumbo errors brought them within two, 14-12. The Jumbos worked to increase their lead and led by four again, 20-16. Middlebury came within two, but ahead 22-20 the Jumbos took advantage of a Panther serving error, and then got an ace from junior Rachel Furash and a kill from Stewart won the second set, 25-20.
Things were close to start in the third set, as the two teams went back and forth. With things locked at 11 the Jumbos got two aces from junior Brigid Bell to take a 13-11 lead. They would not relinquish that lead, picking up a 25-17 win in set three. In the third set the Jumbos had just one attack error, and 14 kills finishing the set with a .520 hitting percentage.
Bell finished with seven kills and seven digs for the Jumbos while freshman Cate Desler added seven kills and 13 digs. Stewart added six kills and five blocks. Junior Heather Holz, Nwankpa and senior co-captain Mackenzie Bright all added five kills each. Holz and Bright each turned in three blocks, while Nwankpa was a force at the net, finishing with six total blocks. Acker added seven digs to the defensive efforts. Freshman Ariel Zedric and Furash took care of the setting, finishing with 15 and 13 assists, respectively. Furash also added four aces and Zedric helped with six digs.
Sessions was the offensive leader for the Panthers finishing with eight kills, eight digs and four blocks. Sarah Staver and Maggie Wise each added seven kills. Gigi Alper led the defensive efforts, turning in 11 digs. Shea Golden and Chellsa Ferdinand both helped with nine digs each. Ferdinand took care of the setting, finishing with 27 assists.
The Jumbos take on Bowdoin in semifinal play on Saturday at 1 pm. The other semifinal match features second-seeded Wesleyan taking on third-seeded Amherst at 3:30 pm. Saturday's winners play on Sunday at noon for the conference title.