MEDFORD – It's a new chapter for Tufts Volleyball. With the addition of seven freshmen and veterans returning in all positions, the Jumbos are hoping the new energy opens a new chapter for Tufts volleyball, one that brings a NESCAC Championship and helps the Jumbos make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Senior co-captain Elizabeth Ahrens, along with classmates McKenzie Humann and Mary Maccabee are charged with leading the bunch of rookies. But, with the help of junior co-captain Alexandra Garrett and classmate Katie Kim, the Jumbos are confident they have the ability to lead a high energetic group of freshmen.
"Their vision and their drive and their desire to have a cohesive unit and to blend these rookies in with these returning players and to get us all on the same page is going to be a huge part of our success," head coach Cora Thompson said. "It's already a huge part of our success. The rookies are blending in really well as results of their efforts."
And it's not just the coaching staff that feels this way.
"Having a young team has been great, because having new people on the team means there is new energy and talent," Ahrens said. "The rookies this year are talented, dedicated and so much fun."
The Jumbos kick off their season at home on Wednesday with a 7 pm match against Clark. They then hit the road this weekend to play in the MIT Invitational where they will face off with Endicott and Wellesley at Endicott on Friday at 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm, respectively. On Saturday the Jumbos continue play in the tournament with a 1 pm contest against Brandeis and a 3 pm match up with Regis, both at MIT.
"What is pretty awesome about this group is that early on in the season there is a championship mentality, there is a mental strength, there is clear vision, there is a work ethic that—I mean we are running through walls, but we are focused on doing the little things right."
DEPTH IN ALL POSITIONS
What might one of the Jumbos biggest strengths this year is their depth. With returners and new faces at all positions, the Jumbos just have a lot of options.
"I think this team is one of our more versatile teams in terms of pin players that can hit anywhere, and we are deep in a lot of positions because of that versatility," Thompson said. "Which is important because every year it comes down to us staying healthy, the healthiest team goes the furthest."
Ahrens and Humann are the returning middle hitters, and they will be a force at the net for the Jumbos. Ahrens was an All-NESCAC Second Team selection last year and played in all 25 of the Jumbos matches finishing the season with 154 kills and a 1.77 kills per set mark, the third best on the team in addition to a .307 hitting percentage and 85 total blocks. Her .307 hitting percentage was the third best mark in the conference as were her 0.98 blocks per set mark. Humann finished her first year wearing Brown and Blue with 123 kills and a .309 hitting percentage along with 67 blocks. Ahrens and Humann will have the task of helping along rookie middle hitters Christina Nwankpa and Heather Holz.
At the outside hitter position, the Jumbos welcome back senior Mary Maccabee, junior Katie Kim and sophomore Mackenzie Bright. Adding freshman Brigid Bell into the mix, and the Jumbos have five good options. With senior Maddie Kuppe, who led the team in kills and was a Second Team American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American, the five returning Jumbos have big shoes to fill. But, no doubt they are up to the task.
Garrett will anchor the Jumbo defense as the libero/defensive specialist. Helping her will be freshmen Kelly Klimo and Ginny Ulichney. Garrett is back for her junior season after playing nearly all of the Jumbos matches her freshman and sophomore year and racking up a career 361 digs and ready to add a ton more this season.
"In our sport ball control is huge, and not just on serve receive, but teams that can be great and stay in system off of defensive plays is going to be huge," Thompson said. "Our defense, their ability to control the ball and keep our middles in the game is going to help everybody."
Running the Jumbo offense will be sophomores Angela Yu and Katie Zheng along with freshman Rachel Furash. Yu and Zheng split time with graduated Kyra Baum last year, but still both saw plenty of court time and are ready to take over the setting duties.
"Preseason has been fantastic," Ahrens said. "There is a great vibe at practices, because every person on the team is excited and ready to work hard for season. Our practices are always a great vibe between fun and competitive."
STAYING IN THE MOMENT
In the new chapter of Tufts volleyball the Jumbos have high goals. Winning a NESCAC Championship and making a run in the NCAA Tournament for a national championship are at the top of that list. But, they know the most important thing they can do is stay in the current moment and take it one match at a time.
"I think for this team, especially, what will be the key to our success is staying in the present moment," Thompson said. "We have these big visions, we have these goals but our ability to stay in the present moment and conquer that is really going to be what will define where we go. That is certainly our goal to stay in the present, you focus on the process and the results will come. So really just the grind, the daily grind, the minute by minute grind, I wouldn't even say it's a grind. There is an excitement to work hard and the level on the court is so high that I think that motivates them and excites them as well. The pace has been unbelievable. The bar has been raised by the freshman showing up, and the returners have met the challenge already."
After the busy opening week the Jumbos will have a midweek contest with Roger Williams next week before opening NESCAC play with what could arguably be the toughest of their NESCAC weekends with a Friday match up against Williams and then a Saturday contest with Amherst. Bowdoin was the NESCAC Champion last season, and the Jumbos will host the Polar Bears the following weekend. That makes three of the Jumbos toughest conference matches all early in the season in the month of September.
In addition to their normal NESCAC slate the Jumbos will take on local rivals UMass-Boston, Rivier, Babson, Gordon, Wellesley, Springfield and MIT during the months of September and October. Their goal will be to play everyone with the same intensity and to treat every match, whether it be a tough midweek one or an important NESCAC one the same way.
A busy opening week is a great way to start the whole match-by-match approach, and it looks like the Jumbos have just that this week.