Volleyball continues win streak, becomes Centennial champions

By ERIC LYNCH | November 14, 2019

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The Hopkins volleyball team played two matches this past weekend to determine the winner of the Centennial Conference Tournament. The team was undefeated entering the tournament, and thanks to their incredible talent and hard work, they finished the tournament undefeated as well. That’s right, the volleyball team won both games this weekend to become the Centennial Conference Tournament champions. And they did it without losing a set.

Senior outside hitter Louisa Kishton commented on the team’s preparation for these games.

“We just focus on playing our game and how we want to play in every single match,” she said. “Whatever other people are thinking, it doesn’t have to affect us if we just go out and play JHU volleyball. And we know we can count on each other to go out and do that.”

The Blue Jays began by facing the Swarthmore College Garnet on Saturday Nov. 9. The first set began predictably, with Hopkins scoring the first four points with two kills from sophomore middle blocker Eleni Panagopoulos. 

After giving up two points to Swarthmore, Hopkins went on another 4-0 run that was topped off by a service ace from junior outside hitter Nicole Hada. The two teams traded points consecutively until the score was 11-6 Hopkins. At this point, Hopkins went on a few more runs before going on a six-point run with sophomore middle Lauren Anthony finishing the set 25-16.

This momentum did not translate well into the second set. After an attack error by Hopkins, the score was tied up at 7-7. 

But Hopkins then went on a signature run, getting four straight points to get a slight edge with another Panagopoulos kill. This run turned out to be the difference maker, as scoring was back-and-forth for the rest of the set until junior outside hitter Simone Bliss got the final kill, leading Hopkins to the 25-18 victory.

The Blue Jays only needed to win one more set to get themselves into the Conference Finals. But Swarthmore also realized that they were only one set away from going home. This proved to be the Jays’ toughest set of the day. 

The third set started like the second, and an attacking error by Hopkins brought the score to an 8-8 tie. A few points later, the score was 11-11. Hopkins then went on a 3-0 run, the longest string of unanswered points either team would get in this set. When the score had reached 23-21 Hopkins, the Blue Jays seized their opportunity, ending the game with kills from Bliss and freshman setter Annelisa O’Neal.

Bliss and Panagopoulos both scored double digit kills in the match. The Blue Jays won their 28th consecutive match, officially claiming the longest win streak in Centennial Conference volleyball history. Going into the Conference Championship, Hopkins was looking to win it all for the fourth straight year. And with a lossless run like this, there was no reason to even doubt their chances.

The Franklin and Marshall (F&M) Diplomats proved to be equally tough opponents for Hopkins. Quickly, the Blue Jays found themselves down 5-2 in the first set. A kill by Kishton stopped the opposition’s momentum, but Hopkins couldn’t get a run of their own going. 

Down 12-7, Hopkins knew they needed to change things soon. But the Blue Jays got it done as usual and scored five consecutive points, featuring two Kishton kills, to tie the set at 12 all. Later in the set, a three-point run featuring two Bliss kills and another one from Kishton tied the game again at 16 points each. 

But then things fell apart. The Diplomats went on a devastating five-point run. An O’Neal kill put a brief halt on their scoring, but the Diplomats scored another three straight afterwards. The score was 24-17 and Hopkins looked doomed. But the Blue Jays did what they had been doing all season: the impossible. A Bliss kill helped Hopkins get in their rhythm, and Panagopoulos finished the run off. Hopkins scored an incredible nine unanswered points to finish the set 26-24. If a 24-17 deficit couldn’t stop the Blue Jays, it seemed like nothing would.

The second set saw more of the same. After a F&M three-point run, the score was evened up, 6-6. Hopkins scored three points of their own thanks to a kill by Kishton and some errors by the Diplomats. Later in the set, Anthony scored a kill, and the Diplomats gifted the Blue Jays by getting three straight attack errors. With the score tied at 23-23, the Blue Jays once again finished solidly, scoring the last two points of the sets off of F&M’s errors.

Now the team only needed to win one more set to become the Centennial Tournament champions. 

However, the third set did not begin well for Hopkins. The Diplomats found themselves up 8-2 early, but eventually, three straight kills from Kishton turned the tide of the set. Anthony followed these kills with a kill of her own and a Panagopoulos service ace further helped them overcome the deficit. 

Kishton finished the run with yet another kill, bringing the score to 11-10 in the Diplomat’s favor. The rest of the set featured a three-point run with two Bliss kills, a four-point run with one Bliss kill, a four-point run with three Bliss kills, and a four-point run that ended the game with one Bliss kill. Clearly, Bliss led this set and brought Hopkins a 25-20 victory.

And with that, Hopkins had won their fourth consecutive Centennial Conference Tournament championship.

Kishton explained what this victory meant to her.

“It’s a reflection of the hard work, time and effort that people have put into the program,” she said. “Repeated success like that doesn’t just happen.”

The achievement was no surprise, given the team’s historic regular season. Bliss was declared the tournament MVP for her performance, scoring 15 kills in both games. For their success, the Blue Jays were awarded a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament and will host Manhattanville in the first round.

Kishton looked ahead to the big tournament.

“We are really just trying to play our game no matter the circumstances,” she said. “To enable us to do that we will scout our upcoming games the way we have done with all our other games. We will use these next few practices to continue to fine tune whatever aspects of our game we think we need to get a few more reps at before tournament time.”

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