Volleyball wins third straight Centennial Conference Championship

By DAVID GLASS | November 8, 2018

COURTESY OF HOPKINSSPORTS.COM The volleyball team wins their third consecutive Conference Championship, as they swept their opponents in both the semifinals and finals.

This past weekend, the Hopkins volleyball team swept their way through the Centennial Conference Tournament. On Saturday, Hopkins defeated the Swarthmore Garnet in the semifinals and, on Sunday, they beat the McDaniel Green Terror, taking home the school’s third consecutive Conference Championship. The Jays completely dominated the competition, winning each set by an average of almost 10 points.

The Conference Title is the sixth in program history, all of which have come since 2011.

Freshman middle blocker Eleni Panagopoulos discussed the excitement of winning the Tournament and seeing the team’s hard work pay off.

“We have all put in so much work this season and to be able to go in and sweep both games championship weekend was a nice way to make a statement,” she said. “I am so grateful that we were able to leave it all on the court and play for each other, while also having fun and winning both games.”

Swarthmore got off to a hot start in the semifinals, taking five of the first six points. Hopkins responded with a 5-0 run to take a 6-5 lead in what would be a tight set throughout. The Blue Jays won three of the last five points, winning the set 25-19 on a kill from freshman middle blocker Lauren Anthony.

Hopkins was in total control of the next two sets, holding the Garnet to 23 points, combined. 

Though Swarthmore scored the first two points of the third set, the Blue Jays dominated the set overall. They scored six of the next seven points after going down 2-0, and extended that streak to 11 of 13 points to take a commanding 11-4 lead. 

From that point on the outcome of the set was all but determined, as the Blue Jays would continue to dominate. They ended the set by scoring six straight points. They would ride those scoring streaks throughout the set to eventually secure a 25-11 victory.

The third set would be the final set and Hopkins would dominate that one in similar fashion to the second set. While it was neck and neck until the score got to 9-8 in favor of the Blue Jays, they pulled ahead from that point on.

The Blue Jays would go on a 16-4 run to close out the set, including eight straight points to finish the set. That run included two service aces from freshman libero Sarah Khan.

The victory cemented the Blue Jays’ spot in the Centennial Conference Championship on Sunday.

Panagopoulos led the charge offensively for the Jays with 12 kills. Sophomore outside hitter Simone Bliss added 11 kills of her own and was recently named First Team All Centennial, along with junior outside hitter Louisa Kishton. 

Sophomore setter Nicole Hada also finished the matched with 34 assists.

Hada, who came into Hopkins last year as an outside hitter and defensive specialist, spoke about her transition into playing the setter position.

“Since I never played in the position of a setter in my life, I needed to learn specialized setting skills and a new set of responsibilities throughout the summer and the season,” she said.

She added that the positional transition has opened up many opportunities for her to continue developing her mental game.

“This position has pushed me mentally to take every fumble as a learning opportunity. In addition, this change in position has allowed me to have deeper connections with all my teammates and has made me have a higher volleyball IQ,” she said.

Heading into the Championship game, McDaniel College had some momentum after sweeping their play-in game against Muhlenberg College and their semifinals matchup against host and first-seeded Franklin & Marshall College.

Hopkins stifled that momentum immediately, jumping out to an early 7-2 lead in the first set. The Jays maintained a large lead the rest of the way, winning the set 25-12 on a kill by Hada. 

After losing the first point of the second set, Kishton served up two aces, and Hopkins would possess the lead the rest of the way, winning 25-16.

The third and final set featured 12 tied scores, including 22-22. Back-to-back kills from senior outside hitter Michelle Abt and another from Bliss capped off the Blue Jays’ Championship victory. 

“Defense wins championships” certainly held true here, as Hopkins held the Green Terror to a .061 hitting percentage. This is due in large part to having four players with double-digit digs, including senior libero Esther Hong, who led the team with 12, and freshman libero Sarah Khan, who had 10.

With 27 assists and 10 digs in the Championship, Hada earned the Tournament’s Most Valuable Player award and gave the credit to her team.

“I attribute my success to [our coach] Jenn and my teammates because their constant support day-in-and-day-out this season has pushed me to believe in myself as a player when I did not,” she said.

After the tournament the Conference announced the end of season awards, and both Bliss and Kishton were named First Team All-Centennial Conference for their stellar seasons.

The Blue Jays will head to Wellesley, Mass. where they will face the Eastern University Eagles in the first round of the NCAA Division-III Tournament. 

Hada discussed the team’s keys to success against Eastern.

“Serving tough will allow us to put Eastern out-of-system and not allow their outside hitters and middle blockers to be effective and score on our defense,” she said. “More importantly, our ability to be the aggressors from point one of the match and take control from the start will allow us to be successful.”

Panagopoulos also spoke about what the team must focus on heading into the Tournament.

“Every team in the Tournament wants to win and if we want to be successful we cannot expect teams to hand us points,” she said. “We have to compete hard and go out and earn our wins. This means training in practice how we want to perform and making the most out of every rep we get.”

This is the third matchup between the Blue Jays and the Eagles this season, splitting the regular season series. The match will take place at Staake Gymnasium on Friday, Nov. 9, at 3 p.m.

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