The Hopkins volleyball team went into the final game of the season this past Saturday with a lot on the line. They hosted the Franklin and Marshall (F&M) College Diplomats in a matchup that would decide who received the rights to host the Conference tournament.
Junior libero Nicole Hada shared how the team geared up for this pivotal end of season matchup.
“Like for any other team we prepare for, we watched film after Thursday’s and Friday’s practice,” she said. “Mentally, we came in prepared for a tough, long battle knowing they’d give their all to defeat us.”
The Jays started off hot, as they had done all season, jumping out to a 5-0 lead. The run was powered by a pair of kills by senior middle blocker Hannah Korslund and a strong service run by junior setter Natalie Aston.
The Diplomats later rallied back by stringing together five straight points, cutting the Hopkins lead to 8-6. However, that close margin disappeared as the Jays forced F&M to make consecutive attacking errors, pushing them to lead by six. Sophomore middle blocker Eleni Panagopoulos punctuated the run with with an ace, giving the Jays a 14-7 lead.
They would go on to control the set from then on out. Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Anthony put the final touches on the first set with her first kill of the match, giving the Jays the opening set by a score of 25-15.
With Hopkins out to another hot start, the Diplomats knew that they had to respond or else the match would be all but over. The visitors started off the second set with a 5-4 lead and looked to change the tide of the match. However, another kill from Korslund ignited a 4-0 run by the Jays, giving Hopkins the advantage once again.
The two teams traded points until F&M pulled within two, making the score 17-15. Just as it seemed as though the Diplomats were knocking on the door, a kill from junior outside hitter Simone Bliss halted their momentum. She and senior outside hitter Louisa Kishton combined for five kills and an ace during the clinching 8-0 run, as they won the set 25-15 once again.
Hada described the Jays’ plan of attack throughout the match.
“The team’s focus throughout the match was to put F&M out-of-system as much as possible through aggressive serving and swings from our hitters,” she said. “In parts of the match when we were ahead, we had the ‘it’s not over’ mentality to keep on pushing to play our game.”
That mentality propelled them to what may be the most impressive set of their season. After the Diplomats won the first point of the match, the Jays took control and placed the ball in Aston’s hand to serve.
The junior went on a dominating solo run, rattling off nine aces — the most by a Blue Jay since 2017. Her solo performance pushed the lead to 14-1, forcing the visitors to spend both their timeouts during the run. Hopkins never looked back, as they cruised to victory in the rest of the set, winning by a score of 25-7.
The Jays dominated the match offensively, hitting at an even .400 hitting percentage on the day, a mark that they reached for the sixth time this season. They were far more efficient than the Diplomats, making half as many errors (seven to 14), and 32 assists to their 17.
The victory extended their winning streak to 27 straight matches, tying the Centennial Conference record for longest winning streak. In their 10 Centennial victories, Hopkins did not drop a set, and the Jays also won the right to host the Centennial Conference tournament for the third time in the last four seasons.
Hada described the feeling of completing the undefeated regular season.
“Having a perfect regular season felt good knowing that all of our hard work from the off-season and working through the challenges of a small roster and new coaching staff paid off,” she said. “We’ll be working on tweaking and improving the small things in our game for the next couple of weeks.”
Hopkins will await the winner of the fourth-seeded Haverford College Fords and fifth-seeded Swarthmore College Garnet for the semifinal matchup this Saturday in the Goldfarb gymnasium.