MEDFORD, Mass. – The Wesleyan University volleyball team won its first-ever NESCAC Championship on Saturday as the second-seeded Cardinals rallied from a 1-0 deficit to defeat top-seeded Tufts University 3-1 by scores of 22-25, 25-23, 25-17, 25-14. With the win, the Cardinals automatically qualify for the NCAA Tournament and make their second appearance all-time in the postseason championships and first since 2001.
Wesleyan's defense was terrific in victory as the Cardinals avenged its loss to Tufts from a week ago and snapped a 12-match losing streak against the Jumbos which dates back to 2007. The win also improves Wesleyan's record to an incredible 21-5 mark while Tufts drops to 22-6.
Madeleine Lundberg '19 was crucial to the title win as she totaled 11 kills and a season-high 17 digs. Nicole Hilton '18 led the team with 13 kills, a .310 hitting percentage, and five blocks and Harper Graves '21 tallied 12 kills and eight digs. Sarah Swenson '18 and Gabby Bennett '20 recorded eight and seven kills, respectively, while Kaira Muraoka-Robertson '20 rounded out the top offensive performances with a match-high 42 assists. Defensively, Phia Bellizzi '21 totaled a match-high 19 digs and Olivia Guidotti '20 added 12.
HOW IT HAPPENED:
- The first set featured five ties early until an attack error by the Cardinals gave Tufts a 9-8 lead, and the Jumbos would remain ahead the rest of the way. The home team led by as much as five (20-15) but Wesleyan knotted the game at 22-22 off a service ace from Kaira Muraoka-Robertson '20. However, Tufts closed out the set with three unanswered points to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
- The second game went back-and-forth throughout with neither team able to lead by more than one until late in the set when Madeleine Lundberg '20 registered a kill and service ace to lift the Wesleyan lead to 21-19. Tufts would get within one, 24-23, but a service error by the Jumbos sealed the win for the Cardinals as they evened the match at 1-1.
- Wesleyan came out hot in the third set and jumped out to a 7-1 lead but Tufts responded and cut the deficit to two off a kill from Mackenzie Bright (9-7). The two-point margin would be the closest the set would get as the Cardinals pulled away late and outscored the Jumbos 7-2 to take a 2-1 advantage.
- After some more back-and-forth action early in the fourth set, a 3-0 run by Tufts gave the home team an 11-9 lead. However, Wesleyan responded by scoring 11 of the next 12 points to put the put the game out of reach. A Tufts' kill by Maddie Stewart ended the run, but the Cardinals closed out the set by outscoring the Jumbos 5-1 down the stretch to claim the come-from-behind victory.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS:
- Wesleyan hit .186 as a team. After a tough first set, in which the Cardinals recorded 13 errors, they rallied with a .382 hitting percentage behind 15 kills and two errors in the second set while hitting .238 and .189 in the next two games.
- Tufts hit just .132 as a team and were led by Brigid Bell and Stewart with 12 and 10 kills, respectively. Angela Yu dished out 21 assists and Rachel Furash added 18.
- Kelly Kilmo totaled 19 digs to lead Tufts defensively while Yu registered 12 and Bell tallied 11. Steward recorded 10 total blocks.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE:
- Today's title match was the second championship appearance for the Cardinals in program history and first since 2001. Wesleyan, seeded No. 1 in the tournament, lost to second-seeded Williams that year in a five-set thriller.
- The Cardinals historic 2017 season also features its second Little Three title ever and first since 1992.
HEAD COACH BEN SOMERA:
- "I couldn't be more proud of this team. The resiliency, composure, hustle, attitude, and discipline this weekend was amazing.
- "Our season has been a fabulous journey and we have learned so much about ourselves and what we are capable of when we trust in the process and believe in each other."
- The NCAA Selection Show will air tomorrow, Nov. 6 at 12:30 p.m. on ncaa.com.