Saturday night the women’s volleyball team enjoyed its best bus ride home of the 2004 season.
That afternoon the Bulldogs annihilated Columbia 3-0 (30-19, 30-22, 30-20) in Manhattan for their sixth consecutive shutout to put Yale (14-7, 9-4) just one win away from its first Ivy League title since 1978. Yale’s win over Cornell 3-0 (30-25, 30-17, 30-23) in front of a record crowd Friday evening in Ithaca, N.Y., combined with a Harvard defeat at the hands of Princeton on the same night, gave the Bulldogs an entry into a possible four-way tie for the Ancient Eight crown.
Currently, Harvard (15-9, 10-4 Ivy) and Cornell (16-8, 10-4) already each hold at least a share of the Ivy title, as they wrapped up their regular season Saturday with victories over Penn and Brown respectively. Princeton (18-7, 9-4) and Yale each have a final match to play out this Wednesday to see if they too can grab a piece of the glory.
“The team has worked very hard to make it to this point,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “We have had our ups and downs, but when the whistles blew this weekend, we were ready to play. I am very excited that we have this opportunity to participate in an Ivy championship.”
In the second half of the Eli’s weekend sweep, the Lions became the newest victim of Yale’s recent domination of the Ancient Eight. Libero Anja Perlebach ’07 registered 19 digs to become the first Yale player to ever surpass the 440 mark in a single season. The night before against the Big Red, Perlebach moved into the lead for the single-season digs mark, surpassing Kristina Klizewski’s 398 tally from the 1989 season.
“Anja had phenomenal performances on both Saturday and Friday,” Appleman said. “She got to some really tough balls, and in my opinion, I think she is developing into one of the top liberos, not only in the league, but in the nation as well.”
Outside hitter Nicole Perkins ’08 had her best game of the season with 10 kills and a .588 hitting percentage. Middle blocker Lauren Burke ’05 and outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07 also had big games, with Burke racking up six kills, four blocks and two service aces and Farrell bringing in nine kills and 14 digs.
“We are all just staying focused on our game and playing our style of play,” Farrell said. “Brown has changed a lot over the season — as have we — but if we just continue to play how we’ve been playing recently, then we should come out with a win.”
Yale faced one of its toughest challenges of the season against Cornell on Friday evening. Despite its victory against the Big Red a month before, Yale had a lot to overcome.
Cornell only needed one more win to secure at least a share of the Ivy League title — the school’s first since 1993 — and they boast one of the League’s top outside hitters, Elizabeth Bishop ’07. In addition, the host Big Red drew 1,064 fans to Newman Arena, which could easily have been a problem for the Bulldogs who had a lot of trouble on the road this season.
Many Yale players rose to the occasion to defeat the Big Red in what players agreed was one of the Bulldogs’ best performances of the season.
“It was a great feeling to beat Cornell in their gym, with their fans trying to heckle us,” Burke said. “I was very confident we would win because the whole team was focused and fired up. We played as well as I’ve ever seen us play.”
Setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 had a solid performance, posting 52 assists and a .462 hitting percentage, while middle blocker Renee Lopes ’06 also had a big night, with 13 kills and a .417 hitting percentage. Farrell led the Elis with 17 kills and 17 digs.
On the bus to Columbia following their victory over the Cagers, players said they nervously awaited news about Harvard’s match against Princeton. A loss would keep their hopes of tying for first in the Ivies alive.
“When we finally heard the news that Princeton had beaten Harvard, we all screamed and jumped around for like five minutes,” Becker said. “It was awesome and definitely the highlight of my Yale volleyball career.”
Yale will host Brown for their final Ivy League match this Wednesday at 7 p.m. in John J. Lee Amphitheater. With one game left to play and their destiny in their own hands, Yale players are confident of their chances to make program history.
“Against Brown we just need to play like we know we can play and take care of business,” Becker said. “From past experience, we know that no team is going to roll over, so we need to come ready to play. Everything is in our hands now, though, which is a great position to be in.”