MEDFORD – In a back and forth affair, the top-seeded Tufts volleyball team earned a hard fought five set win over third-seeded Bowdoin in the NESCAC Final on Sunday afternoon in Cousens Gym. The NESCAC title is the second in program history for the Jumbos, and the first since 1996.
Tufts (27-1) won the first set, 25-21. The Polar Bears (18-7) won the second and third sets (25-18 and 25-20), before the Jumbos tied the match at two with a 25-17 win the fourth set. In a close fifth set, Tufts won, 15-13 to claim the conference crown.
The Jumbos took an early lead in the first set, scoring the first four points of the set. Bowdoin would come within one more than once, but they were never able to tie or take a lead and the Jumbos won the first set, 25-21.
It was Bowdoin that took the early lead in the second set, ahead 10-4 early. Down by eight, 18-10, the Jumbos scored five straight points behind the serve of freshman Stephanie Lee to come within three, 18-15. They would come within one, 19-18, a couple points later. But, the Polar Bears scored the final six points of the set with Cori Gray serving to take a 25-18 win in set two to tie the match at one.
Bowdoin jumped out to an early lead in the third set as well, ahead 7-2. Once again, the Jumbos tried to claw their way back in it, but they just weren't able to do it and the Polar Bears won the third set, 25-20, to take a 2-1 match lead.
Things were close in the fourth set. With the score locked at seven the Jumbos scored five straight to take a 12-7 lead. But, Bowdoin answered by evening things up at 15. The Jumbos got behind the serve of Lee again to score six straight and take a 21-15 lead. They evened the match at two with a 25-17 win in the fourth set.
The fifth set was as close as it could get with the scored tied six times and the two teams trading the lead a couple of times. With things locked at 12 the Jumbos took advantage of two Bowdoin errors to take a 14-13 lead. Bowdoin answered with a kill from Caroline Flaharty, but senior Maddie Stewart turned in a kill to give the Jumbos a 15-13 win and the NESCAC Championship.
Stewart finished with 16 kills and three blocks. Classmate Brigid Bell was spectacular with 12 kills, 17 digs and four blocks, along with three aces. Sophomore Cate Desler turned in 12 kills, 11 digs and four blocks. Senior Christina Nwankpa finished with seven kills and six blocks. Lee tallied 20 digs defensively. Senior Rachel Furash added 12 digs and sophomore Ariel Zedric finished with nine. Furash and Zedric ran the offense, finishing with 32 and 22 assists, respectively.
Ashley Williams was the offensive leader for the Polar Bears with 13 kills and she also added three blocks. Danielle Abrams added 11 kills and three blocks and Flaharty finished with 11 kills, 20 digs and three aces. Cori Gray turned in five kills and seven blocks. Defensively, Emily King collected 22 digs. Kate Kiser and Ella Haugen took care of the setting, and Kiser collected 25 assists, while Haugen finished with 19.
The Jumbos receive the NESCAC's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament and will find out where they play next on Monday. Bowdoin will await a possible at-large bid into NCAA play.
Watch the Jumbos' NESCAC Championship clinching point ...