Bowdoin women’s volleyball (6-6, NESCAC 1-2) entered last Saturday’s matchup against national number-five ranked Johnson and Wales (11-3) having lost four of their last five games—including two straight-set losses to conference rivals Wesleyan (10-2) and Tufts (12-0)—and with three times as many losses in the past month as it had accumulated across all of last season.
Yet, they emerged with the program’s first ever victory over a top-ten team in its 34-year history.
In the first game of a daytime doubleheader, the Polar Bears topped the Wildcats with a score of 3-1 at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. In the second game of the day, Bowdoin also put away Maine Maritime (10-3) by the same scoreline—drawing the team’s record even at 6-6 overall.
The team is adjusting to the reality of a new season after last fall’s record-setting campaign.
“The record is a fun thing to break,” said head coach Erin Cady. “It’s kind of saying goodbye to last season when you have this remarkable 29-2 record and thinking that that’s just going to carry you over into this season … [We’re] finding our new identity as who we are this year, in 2019.”
Johnson and Wales entered the match with an 11-1 record and ranked fifth in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) poll, the same poll that ranked Bowdoin 23rd nationally a month ago. In 2018, the Wildcats posted a 33-2 record, including a Greater Northeast Athletic Conference championship and a trip to the finals of the NCAA Tournament Providence Regional.
After losses to Bowdoin and Tufts this past weekend, the Wildcats have dropped to 15th in the ACVA rankings.
The historic win came at the right time for the Polar Bears, as the team struggled to set its season on the right track.
“I think it was definitely a mental shift for our team,” said captain Dani Abrams ’20. “We started out the season facing really tough competition, and we’re playing well, but we couldn’t get that collective team confidence … I think facing the number-five [team] in the nation right now was what we needed to first bring out that confidence, and then also prove to ourselves that we had what it takes.”
Sophia Pahl ’22 led Bowdoin against the Wildcats with 13 kills while adding 12 digs and five service aces. Captain Caroline Flaharty ’20 paired 10 kills with 17 digs, and Ella Haugen ’23 led the team with 25 assists.
The addition of Haugen, a setter, as well as Jaida Hodge-Adams ’23, a right-side hitter, has allowed the Polar Bears to modify their rotation from a 5-1 system to a 6-2 system, which gives the team more offensive options on the court at any given time.
“With that offense, it’s something we haven’t run before, but it provides us more options with having a hitter and not having a setter in the front row,” said Cady. “I would say that overall [there is] more speed in every position, and that’s something that we [had] on Saturday that we hadn’t seen all season.”
Abrams said that most importantly, the win allowed the team to clear its mental hurdles that had accumulated over the course of the faltering start to season.
“I think we could sense ourselves playing with a bit of fear,” said Abrams. “[We were] not playing to win, but playing not to lose, and I think we found a way to get past that and just play without any negative pressure.”
And the new mindset is here to stay.
“I don’t think there’s any turning back. I think we’re a new team now compared to what we were a week ago,” said Abrams.
Bowdoin currently sits seventh in the NESCAC standings, tied with Bates (9-4, NESCAC 1-2) with a 1-2 conference record.
The team plays its first conference game at home tonight at 8 p.m. in Morrell Gymnasium. The game is the team’s annual Dig Pink Night, a fundraising initiative to raise money for breast cancer research.