The dream season will continue for the Swarthmore volleyball team, which has advanced to the NCAA Division III Quarterfinal (also known as the Elite 8) in Grand Rapids, Mich. thanks to three upset victories over the weekend.
Playing from Stevenson University in Maryland, the Garnet first toppled Randolph-Macon 3-0 (25-15, 28-26, 26-22 ) on Friday afternoon, swept No. 10 Carnegie Mellon 3-0 (25-16, 25-20, 25-18) on Saturday, and then rallied for a 3-2 win (31-29, 21-25, 19-25, 25-22, 15-10) over No. 12 and conference rival Johns Hopkins on Sunday.
The third time was the charm for the Garnet against Hopkins, as it had lost to the Blue Jays twice during the fall, including a 3-1 setback in last weekend's Centennial Conference Championship match. A close contest was to be expected and Sunday's match lived up to the hype as the fourth five-setter in the last five meetings between the two teams. Swarthmore is the first team in Centennial history to advance to the Elite 8, which will take place on the campus of Calvin College.
Characteristically strong defense and a balanced attack carried Swarthmore to the most significant win in program history. Girard led all players with 31 digs and den Braven (21), Guin Mesh (16), Scott (13) and Sarah Wallace (11) also reached double digits in that category. On the offensive side, Scott (47 assists) spread the workload and kept the Jays guessing. Wallace (17) was one of three players to swing over 10 kills, joined by den Braven (15) and Olivia Leventhal (12). Emma Morgan-Bennett was close behind, posting an efficient .500 hitting percentage with nine kills and one error in 16 attempts.
A nail-biting first set featured 16 ties and seven lead changes. Down the stretch, the Garnet battled and were able to save a remarkable six set points for Johns Hopkins. For most of the frame, neither team led by more than two points until Hopkins pulled ahead, 22-18. Swarthmore rallied to get within one, saved a set point, and won three straight to earn an opportunity of its own. The sides traded points, but Swarthmore would come out on top thanks to kills by Morgan-Bennett and den Braven and a JHU ball-handling error.
The second and third sets were also closely contested, but Hopkins gained a narrow edge in each set for a 2-1 lead overall. Needing to win the fourth to stay alive, Swarthmore dug deep and posted its best hitting percentage of the day, a .316 mark. Den Braven hammered seven kills and no errors in 11 attempts and Girard recorded seven digs in the frame. At 21-21 with Hopkins serving, Leventhal earned a side out with a kill and the Garnet followed with a den Braven swing. Two points away from forcing a fifth and final frame, Swarthmore used two more kills from den Braven to extend the match.
The Blue Jays controlled the early goings of the fifth set and ran out to a 5-1 lead to force a Swarthmore timeout. The Garnet settled in and rattled off a momentum-shifting 8-1 run to completely change the outlook of the match. A few points later, at 10-7, Swarthmore earned a decisive point from an unlikely play as Morgan-Bennett swung a kill after accidentally redirecting the ball off her own head. The intensity ratcheted up after a few extended rallies, but the Garnet remained composed, moving one point away after kills by Wallace. The Blue Jays saved a match point and then conceded the contest with a service error past the end line.
Swarthmore rushed the court for a celebration dogpile in front a majority pro-Garnet crowd. After Johns Hopkins was recognized for its outstanding season, the five senior members of the Garnet (Wallace, Leventhal, Malia Scott, Bridget Scott, Alice Liu) accepted the Regional Championship trophy. It was the class's 97th career victory in a Swarthmore uniform and undoubtedly the most memorable so far.
Swarthmore looks to continue its run on Thursday, Nov. 16 against Wittenberg College.