Jeffs End Season with Loss to Tufts in NESCAC Semifinals

NESCAC logoCourtesy of Tufts sports information

MEDFORD, MA – The Tufts University Volleyball team defended its top seed Saturday afternoon and earned a spot in the NESCAC Championship title game with a five-set comeback victory over the fifth-seeded Amherst College. The Jumbos won by scores of 24-26, 25-20, 15-25, 25-16, and 15-8 en route to their semifinal win.

Tufts (28-3) will face Williams College in the conference championship match Sunday at noon in Cousens Gym. Amherst finishes its season with a 20-8 mark, marking its fourth consecutive 20-win season. This is the first time since 2005 Amherst did not advance to the conference’s title match. The Lord Jeffs are now 19-8 all-time in NESCAC Championship play.

Early hitting mistakes hurt the Jumbos, as they fell behind to a determined Amherst team. The Lord Jeffs’ early offense was led by Cristy Meier (San Anselmo, CA) and Jackie Berkley (Fullerton, CA), who opened the match with two kills each, and by two service aces from Callie Neilson (Escondido, CA). The home team was able to get back into the set, tying it at 18-18, and went on two runs of four points, including a service ace by Caitlin Updike. However, with the help of one of Meier’s 13 kills in the match, Amherst secured a first-set victory.

The beginning of the second set showed how closely matched these two teams were, as they exchanged the first nine points of the game. Several kills by sophomore Katherine Kanoff (Pacific Palisades, CA), who had 13 kills and 23 digs in the match, led an Amherst charge. After a Tufts timeout, an Amherst service error sided out for the Jumbos, who took the opportunity to seize momentum. Tufts came roaring back with a 7-1 run, capped by a big block by first-year Brittany Neff to tie the set at 13-13. Great digs were on display again in the second set, particularly from Kuan (24 total), Feiger (17 total), and Amherst junior libero Rachel Yorke (Los Angeles, CA). Yorke led all players with a solid 40 digs on the afternoon. Tufts got five kills each from Updike and junior Dawson Joyce-Mendive (Minden, NV) in the second set, and evened the match with a win. Updike tallied 20 kills on the afternoon, while Joyce-Mendive added 19 of her own.

The third set was dominated by the Lord Jeffs, who again seized the lead and this time did not relinquish it. Berkley and Neilson combined on a block to more than double Amherst’s advantage at 15-7, and junior Laura Hyman (Glencoe, IL) added another to put the visitors up by 12 points. Hyman contributed two of her five blocks and multiple kills in the third-set victory, while Neilson continued her consistently strong match, in which she assisted on 50 points for the Lord Jeffs.

Facing elimination, Tufts looked for someone to step up and found it in sophomore Lexi Nichols. In the crucial fourth set, Nichols pitched in four kills and assisted on several blocks, and for the first time the Jumbos had an early lead. Despite tying the game at 10-10, Amherst could not put the top seed away, and Tufts took control of the set on an ace by Updike—her second of the match—and a great block by Feiger. The Jumbos got four digs from first-year Natalie Bruck off the bench as they closed the set on a 7-1 run to force a deciding fifth frame.

With momentum in the match shifted its way, Tufts came out determined in the final set. Junior Erica Lokken came off the bench and contributed two blocks and a kill for Tufts as the Jumbos twice doubled their advantage at 8-4 and then 10-5. Meier slammed two kills in the final set for the Lord Jeffs, but Updike, Joyce-Mendive, and Nichols all had multiple answers for Tufts. Feiger continued to set the ball well, and finished off the match with 47 assists for the victorious Jumbos.