The Hopkins volleyball team traveled to Swarthmore, Pa. on Saturday to play a pair of key late-season matches. The first was a Centennial Conference tilt against the Swarthmore College Garnet and the latter a non-Conference matchup against the Vassar College Brewers. Both matches proved to be challenging for the Blue Jays, but the ultimate results were undeniably gratifying.
In the first match, Hopkins did not get off to an ideal start. The Blue Jays were able to hang with the Garnet for much of the opening set and trailed only 21-19 toward the end of the set. However, Swarthmore won four of the next five points to pull away 25-20.
The first-set loss did not deter Hopkins, as the Blue Jays got off to a strong start in the second set. They were able to go up 9-3 early and held a wide margin throughout most of the set. Toward the end of the set though, the Garnet fought back. They were able to narrow a 23-16 lead all the way down to 24-22. However, Hopkins was finally able to put Swarthmore away 25-22, knotting up the match at one set apiece.
The third set proved to be a back-and-forth affair. The Garnet built several three-point leads and eventually opened up the score at 19-14. They held strong and were able to maintain some breathing room, pushing the lead to 22-16. However the Blue Jays were not going down without a fight. They won six consecutive points to tie the set at 22-all. Neither team was able to gain the required two-point advantage over the course of the next 10 points — with Swarthmore saving four set points — before Hopkins finally captured the set 29-27.
The fourth set was also tightly contested, with the teams once again getting deep into the set without either side gaining an advantage. The Blue Jays set up a match point at 24-23, but the Garnet stayed alive and tied the game at 24. Their luck quickly ran out, however, as Hopkins won the next two points to take the set 26-24 and the match 3-1.
Sophomore outside hitter Simone Bliss led the Blue Jays with 18 kills and three blocks. Junior outside hitter Louisa Kishton had a team-high three aces and 18 digs, while sophomore setter Nicole Hada posted a game-high 42 assists.
In their second match of the day, the Blue Jays once again got off to a slow start. The Brewers quickly built up a comfortable lead and cruised to a 25-13 first set victory.
Hopkins looked reinvigorated in the second set. They kept the score close throughout much of the set and were only down 18-17 in its latter stages. At this point they went on a hot streak, winning eight of nine points to win the set 25-19.
The Brewers quickly responded at the beginning of the third set, going up 7-2. However, the Blue Jays fought back, at one point winning nine of 10 points to take a 19-14 lead. Vassar then regained the momentum by posting a 9-1 run of their own to go up 23-20. Four points later, they clinched the set 25-22.
Hopkins now trailed two sets to one, and there was no room for error. The teams were neck and neck for much of the fourth set and were tied 15-all after 30 points. At this point, the Blue Jays turned it up a notch, winning 10 of 12 points and pulling away for a 25-17 fourth set victory. Hopkins was also able to carry this momentum into the fifth set and led all the way by a comfortable margin. The team went up 14-7 and needed four match points to seal the victory. They ultimately did so on the 25th point of the set and won by a score of 15-10.
Bliss once again posted a team-high 18 kills and senior middle blocker Sasha Gorelik had a game-high six blocks. Hada led Hopkins with three aces, as well as 48 assists, while Kishton and senior libero Esther Hong tied for a team-high 18 digs.
Hada commented on the factors that fueled the Blue Jays’ sizable comeback.
“In the Vassar match, our serve receive and serving improved a lot from the first few sets of the match and helped us string more points together. Our mental toughness was able to keep us in the game and continue to earn one point at a time,” Hada said.
She also discussed the team’s ability to persevere in long, arduous matches.
“I think what allows our team to come back after a large deficit or execute in high pressure situations can be attributed to our mental capacity to maintain an ‘elevated neutral’. An ‘elevated neutral’ means that we can sustain at both high levels of focus and energy. Once again, our mental toughness at the end of each set in both matches on Saturday is what set us apart from our opponents,” Hada said.
The postseason is quickly approaching, and Hada commented on the team’s focus moving into the final stretch.
“As the regular season is approaching its end and the postseason draws near, our team is focusing on continuing to grow our team culture and giving a 100 percent effort and focus in training sessions. We are also working to continue ‘gelling’ and growing our relationships with one another on and off the court,” Hada said.
This week, Hopkins faces University of Mary Washington on Friday and both Juniata College and Eastern University on Saturday.