Hopkins volleyball hosted the Greg "Gio" Giovanazzi Memorial Tournament this past weekend, playing three teams and winning every match. Two of the matches were as usual for the Jays, winning in straight sets against Muskingum University and Birmingham-Southern College. However, against Virginia Wesleyan University they went to five sets, and the last set, which is normally played to 15, was played until 23 because of an enormous amount of deuces.
The first game of the weekend was Birmingham-Southern on Friday night. Hopkins won the first three sets: 25-19, 25-19 and 25-22. In the first two sets, the Jays jumped out to early leads, and they kept pace in the rest of them. The third set was much more contested the throughout, but it never felt out of hand for Hopkins.
Before they started their second game of the tournament, the Jays who participated in the undefeated 2019 national championship were given their rings. Four of them — senior middles Eleni Panagopoulos and Lauren Anthony, grad student outside hitter Simone Bliss and grad student setter Natalie Aston — are still starting for Hopkins, returning with their extra year of eligibility from the pandemic.
Bliss explained her decision in an interview with The News-Letter.
“I came back primarily for school — I wanted to get my master’s in [Computer Science], but my extra year of eligibility was definitely on my mind,” she said. “Even though I could’ve gone somewhere else for graduate school, when I really thought about it I couldn’t imagine playing anywhere else... So of course, I would like to win again, but what I’m really cherishing is the opportunity to play again with the best people I know.”
The second game was Saturday afternoon against Virginia Wesleyan. The first set was dominated by Hopkins 25-12, and it seemed like it was going to be a very quick match. However, Virginia Wesleyan won the next set 25-13 and then another 25-17. In that third set, Hopkins held out for a couple of points, and they started to regain some momentum. The Jays would take the fourth set in overwhelming fashion, 25-16.
The fifth set was the only set which wasn’t won in a convincing fashion. Hopkins and Virginia Wesleyan went point-for-point for around 20 minutes of incredibly contested volleyball. It was the first time in a very long time that Hopkins could’ve lost at home — October 2016, when none of the current players were even playing, was the last time Hopkins lost at home.
Bliss elaborated on the game in her interview.
“That game was definitely stressful — it highlighted a lot of areas we still need to work on as a team,” Bliss said. “The real test of the character of a team is how they respond in the face of adversity.”
The last game of the weekend was against Muskingum. Muskingum beat Virginia Wesleyan in four sets on Friday, so it was logical to assume they would put up a fight against the #2-ranked Jays. They did not. It was the most lopsided match of the weekend, with Hopkins winning sets 25-20, 25-17 and 25-17. Even when Muskingum held the lead in this match, it was never dominant, and Hopkins always rallied quickly.
For the weekend as a whole, Bliss led the team in kills with 51, Aston led the team in assists with 113, Panagopoulos led in blocks with 11 and senior libero Sarah Khan led in digs with 53. The team moves onto 6-0 overall with four more games this week.