This weekend, the Hopkins volleyball team traveled up to Wellesley, Mass. for the NCAA tournament. The Blue Jays opened the tournament against the Eastern University Eagles, a team they faced twice during the regular season. In the first matchup of the regular season, the Blue Jays came out on top of a five-set match, but Eastern got its revenge later in the season with a victory in straight sets.
The first round matchup would break the 1-1 regular season split and would also put the winning team into the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. The Blue Jays knew what was on the line, as they jumped out with the first three points of the match.
The Eagles fought, but a six-point run by Hopkins sent the score from 6-4 to 12-4 to give the Blue Jays a lead that they could hold on to for the rest of the set for a 25-17 victory. That six point run included four kills by junior outside hitter Louisa Kishton, who was named to the All Mid-Atlantic Region team as well as an honorable mention All-American.
When asked about the honor, Kishton said that it was a team effort that helped her achieve the award.
“With any All-American, especially for volleyball, it’s obviously a huge team sport. Defense can’t dig the ball if we’re not putting solid blocks up to funnel the hitter one way or another. Hitters can’t hit the ball if there isn’t a setter to get it to them,” she said.
In the second set, the two teams played back and forth until it was 7-6 in favor of the Eagles, at which point the Blue Jays went on another six-point run to claim the lead at 12-7. Hopkins put it into cruise control from that point on and won the set 25-17 once again.
The third set seemed to also be in favor of the Blue Jays, who took a 12-7 lead thanks to a set of three point runs. But Eastern was not going to roll over and went on its own six point run to retake the lead. Hopkins called a timeout to reset, and the two teams continued to go back and forth until it was 18-18, at which point the Blue Jays went on their third and final six point run of the match, to all but secure the victory, which eventually was secured by a final of 25-20.
Kishton contributed 12 kills, but freshman middle blocker Eleni Panagopoulos led the team with 15 in the match. Panagopoulos also led the team in blocks with four, and sophomore setter Nicole Hada led the team in assists with 37.
Kishton commented on how much the team grew from its final regular season matchup with Eastern to the NCAA tournament match.
“The last weekend that we played Eastern exposed a lot of our weaknesses and since then we’ve been able to work on them a lot,” she commented.
The Blue Jays hoped to carry that improvement into their second round matchup against the nationally ranked Bowdoin College Polar Bears.
The matchup was very contested from the start. The teams traded the lead back and forth, and neither team could get separation when they had it. Neither team had a lead larger than three points until late in the set, when Bowdoin went up 19-14. From that point on, Bowdoin had the momentum and was able to secure a 25-19 win.
The second set was more of the same for the two teams, as there were 10 ties in the set. Once again, neither team could pull away until the Polar Bears went on a three point run to go up 19-14. After that, it was rinse and repeat for Bowdoin to close out the set and put the Blue Jays on the brink of elimination, this time by a final score of 25-22.
The third set seemed like it would be an uneventful ending for the Blue Jays, as they found themselves down 22-16. Hopkins showed their resiliency, however, going on a seven-point run to fight all the way back and take the lead 23-22. The Blue Jays seemed like they had all the momentum, but Bowdoin would shut that momentum down with three straight points to win the match.
Hada once again notched 37 assists, which was good enough to land her on the All-Tournament team, and Kishton led the team in digs with 15 for the game. Sophomore outside hitter Simone Bliss led the way for the Blue Jays against the Polar Bears with 12 kills. Bliss was also named to the All Mid-Atlantic Regional team and was named third team All-American because of her outstanding season.
The season was historic for the Blue Jays, as they made it to the NCAA tournament for the third straight year, and the team had its 16th consecutive winning season.