With this year’s volleyball season just underway, the Cardinals already have their sights set on November’s NESCAC tournament. The team failed to reach the tournament in 2013 following several heartbreaking five-set losses, yet a victory against defending conference champion Middlebury showed they possessed the talent to match the conference’s best. Expectations were high entering the 2014 season.
The 2014 Brandeis Invitational this past weekend was the first opportunity for the team to prove they could close out tough matches. They did so with authority, defeating Emmanuel in a 3-2 nail-biter (28-26, 25-22, 25-27, 21-25), then Brandeis in five sets before falling to Coast Guard 3-1 in the tournament’s final match. First-years Sarah Swenson and Tyla Taylor led the Wesleyan attack versus Emmanuel, combining for 38 of the team’s 63 kills.
Senior Captain and setter Claire Larson made it all possible with an impressive 51 assists. On the defensive front, libero Rachel Savage ’17 scored 22 digs while sophomore Naja Lewis compiled seven of the team’s 12 blocks. The team also served well throughout the match, racking up 13 aces over the course of five sets.
“It felt good,” Savage said. “Last season we lost a lot of our games in five [sets], but this tournament was a big confidence booster because were able to finish strong and win all of the matches that went to five.”
Jen Farris ’16 shared Savage’s enthusiasm. “The tournament went really well,” she said. “We fought hard and came out with some tough wins, which was awesome. Our team is hoping to make the NESCAC tournament this year and we plan to work hard to do so. Our [first-years] this year rock and I am excited to see what our team can accomplish this season.”
Up 2-0 against host Brandeis, the team lost the next two sets in nail-biting fashion and found themselves facing a familiar fifth rubber set. However, players stated that they felt the energy on the court was different from past years.
“Nobody panicked,” Savage recalled. “We knew we just needed our momentum back, and everyone rose to the occasion.”
The Cardinals closed out the fifth set 15-12, making it the second five-set win for the tournament. Taylor led the team with 15 kills while Swenson chipped in 14. Larson added 39 assists and Savage compiled 16 digs. The team combined for seven aces.
Wesleyan entered its final match against Coast Guard weary from playing ten straight matches in extremely humid conditions. Still, the team still put up a strong fight against the talented Coast Guard team, splitting the first two sets before falling 25-16 in each of the final two. But the team was not discouraged. Swenson captured a team-high 14 kills while Abby Southam ’16 added 9. Larson totaled 121 assists for the weekend, averaging 8.6 per set played, while Savage compiled 57 digs for the tournament, setting her average at 4.1. Meanwhile, offensive hitter Taylor’s performance throughout the weekend helped her earn a spot on the nine-member all-tournament team.
Overall, the team labeled the tournament a resounding success, both collectively and for individual players.
“The Brandeis tournament this weekend showed us how well we can play together as a team, and how much fight we collectively have,” Swenson said. “It definitely instilled in me, and I believe the rest of my teammates, a confident and excited anticipation for the rest of the season.”
The team will attempt to carry this newfound level of intensity and focus into this Friday’s matchup against Mitchell College.