After an outstanding performance against the 12th-ranked Johns Hopkins, the Swarthmore Volleyball team has clinched a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals; the team ventures to Grand Rapids, Mi. today to play its quarterfinal match against Wittenberg University, the tournament’s current number one seed.
Swarthmore Volleyball had already set a school record by gaining its first-ever bid to the NCAA tournament. Three rounds later, the team’s unprecedented success resulted in Swarthmore’s being the first team from the Centennial Conference to reach the Round of Eight.
Advancing to the round of eight required an unprecedented team effort from Swarthmore Volleyball. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Swarthmore dominated with a 3-0 win against Randolph-Macon, a liberal arts college of 1,400 students in Ashland, Virginia. Sarah Girard ’19 led the team with 19 digs, and Malia Scott ’18 helped the offense to a .223 hitting percentage with her 33 assists.
The next day, in the second round, the Garnet defeated the 10th ranked Carnegie Mellon with another 3-0 sweep. Swarthmore’s defense was outstanding, limiting the CMU Tartans to .130 hitting percentage. Additionally, as if the score itself was not dramatic enough, the game ended with two consecutive aces from Scott.
Following the win against CMU, on Nov. 12, Swarthmore faced Centennial Conference Champions Johns Hopkins. This year alone, Swarthmore had previously lost two matches to Hopkins. While the first was a regular season game that the Garnet lost 2-3, the second was the Centennial Conference finals, in which Hopkins defeated Swarthmore 3-1. The loss eerily echoed last year’s loss to Hopkins in the same conference final.
Across the entire season, the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays had only been defeated by three teams, all of which were nationally-ranked. Even so, Swarthmore played a fantastic game, and despite the earlier losses against the Blue Jays, the team rallied to defeat Johns Hopkins 3-2 in an intense nail-biter. Fan support definitely played a role in the win; Swarthmore sent out a packed fan bus on the day of the game to support the team.
In a post-game press conference, head coach Harleigh Chwastyk commented on the dynamic between the volleyball teams of Johns Hopkins and Swarthmore.
“They came ready to play, and we did too. It’s been a battle between our programs over the last two years…It’s just, wow. It hasn’t sunk in…We’ve gone five sets with this team on multiple occasions. So, I felt like we had a lot of things in our favor. We weren’t getting the unexpected thrown at us, and I think our composure was fantastic too.”
Scott also spoke on this topic. When asked what it was like to play Johns Hopkins for the third time this season, she said the following.
“A lot of us, having played them twice, felt like we weren’t able to give it our all in previous two matches. I think we wanted to come out and be able to show in this vital match what we can do and to play to our full potential. So, I know I was excited to play them again.”
Mehra Den Braven ’20, who was named the Most Outstanding Player for the Regional, shared her teammate’s attitude.
“I agree with Malia. It was exciting to get to play them again and have the outcome be so different from the last two times, but again, it was also a challenge, mentally especially, just because we do know what they are about, and we know that they are a good team.”
The Garnet will have to stay on top of their game and continue to play very well to win today’s quarterfinal match against Wittenberg. Wittenberg is seeded number one in the NCAA Elite 8 bracket, after winning five straight games, in four of which the score was 3-0.
Currently ranked third in all of Division 3 Volleyball, Wittenberg has had a consistently strong volleyball team in the past as well. The match against Swarthmore today will mark the eighth time that Wittenberg Volleyball has reached the Elite 8, the most recent having been in 2015. Needless to say, the Garnet will have to play hard today. Still, given how well the postseason has been going, there’s no doubt that the team has a good chance of winning and making it to the semifinals. For those who would like to follow the team’s progress, the game against Wittenberg will be available on live stream through the Swarthmore Athletics website.