Nov. 15, 2009

Courtesy of Tufts Athletics

MEDFORD, Mass. -
Tufts University Volleyball won the NCAA New England Regional Bracket on Saturday night with a three-set victory over New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) rivals William College. Tufts played an almost mistake free match and emerged with victories of 25-13, 25-16, and 25-23.

Coach Cora Thompson's Jumbos move on to the NCAA Championship Quarterfinals for the first time in school history. The Jumbos will travel to the Tony DeCarlo Varsity Center in University Heights, Ohio for the finals which start Thursday (Nov. 19). They will play Hope College, the Midwest champion.

The Jumbos played a smart match from the opening points, using several tips to take an early advantage. Senior co-captain Brogie Helgeson (Santa Cruz, CA) had three of the early kills as the Jumbos tipped their way to a 13-6 advantage. Phenomenal digs by senior co-captain Dena Feiger (Long Grove, IL) also helped to pace the Jumbos. Feiger dug 10 balls for Tufts while assisting on 43 points on the night.

Junior Kate Anderson (Berlin, MA) spiked four kills and pulled the Ephs to within four points, but the Jumbos could not be contained, and went on a seven-point run to seize control of the set. Helgeson finished the first set with six kills, and would go on to record 13 for the match. Sophomore Lexi Nicholas (San Diego, CA) added two blocks in the 25-13 first-set victory. Eleanor Levine (Atlanta, GA) had multiple kills en route to a match total of eight for Williams.

Senior Whitney Hitchcock (Penfield, NY) tallied three of her eight kills in the second set, and added a block to pull the Ephs within two points, but the Jumbos answered back again. Junior Caitlin Updike (Manhattan Beach, CA) and first year Brittany Neff (Culver City, CA) each added blocks, and Updike killed four points. Updike went on to kill 13 balls in the match and added three service aces and 11 digs, while Neff led the Jumbos with five blocks in the match. Helgeson also contributed a service ace in the 25-16 second-set victory. Sophomores Cara Spieler (Santa Barbara, CA) and Audrey Kuan (Los Altos, CA) continued to play good defense for the Jumbos in the second set with several great digs. Spieler dug out 12 balls in the match for Tufts, while Kuan led the Jumbos with 19 digs.

The Ephs were able to tie the third game at 13 thanks to an ace by junior Emily Avis (Palo Alto, CA), who also set up 26 points for the Ephs. Libero Andrea Scioscia (Gibsonia, PA) led the Ephs in defense with 16 digs, and added a service ace in the third game as Williams fought to get back in the match. The Jumbos regained a four-point lead thanks to four aces in the third game by Kuan, three of which came in the span of four points. Tufts junior Dawson Joyce-Mendive (Minden, NV), the Regional MVP, added four of her team-high 14 kills in the third set as the Jumbos looked to close out the match. Anderson found her stroke again late in the set, driving home three of her 13 kills to pull the game to one point, but Joyce-Mendive was equal to the task, and powered Tufts University to the straight-set victory with a 25-23 win.

"Our goals were to start out strong with our serve, play great defense and get a lot of touches on them," Thompson said. "They're great hitters, so we knew we probably wouldn't stuff block them a lot. We wanted to slow the ball down so that our defense would have a chance. I thought the defense played it perfectly. They played such composed volleyball from the very first point to the last, and I was so proud of that. We didn't get too far ahead of ourselves and we stayed level-headed. We were excited to be in the regional final, but just the right amount. You can't ask for more."

The Jumbos (31-4) turned the tables on a Williams team that beat them in straight sets in last week's NESCAC Championship match. It was the third year in a row that the Ephs had knocked the Jumbos out of the NESCAC tournament. Williams finished the 2009 season with a 23-9 record. Tufts will now represent New England in Ohio.

"It's so exciting, it feels surreal right now," Thompson said. "We'll give it our best shot. We're a great group of athletes and we have great senior leadership right now. They're just refusing to lose and I think that's a great mentality. Coming off two great wins like this (including the regional semi-final over Wellesley), I feel like we've got good momentum going into this tournament. We're just going to embrace the opportunity."

In addition to Joyce-Mendive earning MVP, Feiger and Updike were on the Regional All-Tournament team. Anderson and Avis from Williams were also All-Tournament selections, along with Wellesley's Elizabeth Campbell (Solona Beach, CA) and UMass Boston's Kate McWhorter (Bakersfield, CA).