MEDFORD – Seniors Brigid Bell, Rachel Furash, Christina Nwankpa and Maddie Stewart, sophomore Cate Desler and head coach Cora Thompson of the Tufts University volleyball team have earned New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) All-Conference honors for the 2019 season.
Stewart was named the NESCAC Player of the Year and earned All-Conference first team honors. Bell and Nwankpa join Stewart on the first team. Furash and Desler received spots on the All-Conference second team. For the seventh time, Thompson was selected as the NESCAC Coach of the Year.
Stewart, an outside hitter from Menlo Park, Calif., tallied the final point in the fifth set of the Jumbos' 3-2 NESCAC Championship victory over Bowdoin College last Sunday. The last time a Jumbo was named the NESCAC Player of the Year was in 2011 (Kendall Lord), and it's the program's third overall. A tri-captain, Stewart has started in all 96 sets the Jumbos have played this season. Her 274 kills lead Tufts while ranking fourth in the conference. Stewart is tops on the team in hitting percentage and second in the conference at .383, just percentage points ahead of Nwankpa. Stewart ranks third on the team in blocks with 64 which is tied for seventh in NESCAC. She was named the NESCAC Player of the Week twice this season and tallied double-digit kills in 12 matches. This is Stewart's second time being named All-Conference, including a second team award last year.
Bell, a tri-captain from Granite Bay, Calif., has started in 94 of 96 sets for the Jumbos this season. The outside hitter ranks third on the team with 217 kills, 2.31 per set. The total puts her in 12th in the conference. She ranks second on the team in digs with 280 on the season. Bell is 11th in NESCAC in digs. A strong server as well, she is tied for 10th in the conference with 33 service aces, second on the Jumbos. Bell tallied double-digit kills 10 times this season while earning double-digit digs 16 times. On six occasions, she had a double-double with kills and digs including a 12-kill, 17-dig performance in the NESCAC Championship match. She was named the NESCAC Player of the Week once this season. This is Bell's first All-Conference honor.
Nwankpa, a senior middle hitter from Round Rock, Texas, earns her first career All-Conference selection. She ranks fourth on the Jumbos in kills with 208 and is second for the team in hitting percentage at .383. Her kills rank 16th in NESCAC while her hitting percentage is third in the conference. Nwankpa leads the Jumbos in blocks with 83 (seven solo and 76 assisted). That ranks second in the conference. The senior has started in 90 sets this season. She tallied 12 kills on three separate occasions and had six assisted blocks in the NESCAC Championship.
Furash, a senior setter, has started in all 96 sets. She has earned 674 assists thus far this season, which tops the Jumbos. Her 7.02 assists per set ranks third in the conference. Furash leads the Jumbos in service aces at 36 which is good for ninth in NESCAC. The Westlake Village, Calif. native has also added 172 digs on the season. She had 45 assists and 15 digs in a four-set victory over Wesleyan. She earned double-digit assists in every contest this season and earned an assist and digs double-double three times. This is her first time being named All-NESCAC.
Desler, a sophomore outside hitter, earns her second All-Conference honor after being named last season's Rookie of the Year and to the second team. The Hillsborough, Calif. native ranks second on the Jumbos in kills with 226. She has also added 195 digs, which is good for third, and 37 blocks (seven solo and 30 assisted). She is tied for ninth in NESCAC in kills. She has gone over double-digit kills 12 times this season and has nine games with double-digit digs. She has six double-doubles on the season including a 12-kill, 11-dig performance in the NESCAC Championship.
Thompson earns her seventh NESCAC Coach of the Year award and third in the last four seasons. In year 17 leading the Jumbo squad, she has directed the team to a 27-1 record including a perfect 10-0 in conference games. The brown and blue won 30 consecutive sets in a nearly one-month stretch from September 21 to October 19. The Jumbos captured the NESCAC Championship for the first time since 1996 this fall. Tufts is ranked No. 1 in the New England region and No. 14 in the American Volleyball Coaches Associatio (AVCA) poll.
The Jumbos' five players receiving NESCAC honors is two more than any other school this year and is the most ever for the Tufts program. They also have the most first-team recipieints (three).
Tufts will host one of the NCAA Division III Regionals to be played Friday through Sunday (November 15-17) at Cousens Gym.