A deafening roar could be heard all the way to the street outside of Payne Whitney Gymnasium last night as over 400 fans celebrated the women’s volleyball team’s first Ivy Championship since 1978.
The Bulldogs defeated Brown 3-2 (30-20, 30-20, 19-30, 28-30, 16-14) in a feverish battle at John J. Lee Amphitheater to secure a spot in the first four-way tie for the Ivy Title in the history of the Ancient Eight. Yale (15-7, 10-4 Ivy) joined Harvard (15-9, 10-4) and Cornell (16-8, 10-4), who both locked down their share of the glory last Saturday, and Princeton (19-7, 10-4) which joined the party last night with a victory over Penn.
The Bulldogs will now get a chance to compete for a spot in the NCAA tournament this weekend in a playoff with their co-victors.
Head coach Erin Appleman said she was ecstatic about the win.
“I’m so proud of how the team has progressed throughout the second half of the season,” Appleman said. “For a team to go 7-0 in the second half is a tremendous accomplishment, and winning the championship at home is a memory we’ll never forget.”
Although Yale got off to a dominating start in the first two games of the match, the Bulldogs’ victory over Brown did not come easily. In games 1 and 2, the Elis out-hit the Bears .378 to .075 and .312 to .125, respectively. Captain Jana Freeman ’05, who recorded 20 kills and 22 digs in the match, knocked out 10 kills in the second game alone.
The Yale team that went into the locker room during the intermission between the second and third games did not return to the court when play resumed. After overshadowing Brown in all areas in the first half of the match, the Bulldogs went flat in the third game, mustering a mere .039 hitting percentage and only 16 digs total. Brown outside hitters Shawn Tulac and Julie Mandolini-Trummel, who slammed 22 kills and 15 kills, respectively, over the course of the match, combined for 22 kills in those two games alone to lead the unstoppable Bear attack.
Yale assistant coach Kevin Laseau said that he had his own thoughts on why the Elis suffered in the third and fourth games.
“My theory is that we realized after winning the first two games just exactly what we were doing and what we were playing for,” Laseau said. “This program and this team in particular does not have a lot of experience winning championships, so I don’t think we actually knew how to finish things off.”
After losing all their momentum, the Elis pulled it together and came out to an early lead in the tiebreaker behind a standout performance at the net by rookie outside hitter Kali Nelson ’08. Nelson recorded five of Yale’s nine kills in game 5, and she put up huge numbers for the Bulldogs on the night as well, racking up a career-best 26 kills and a.375 hitting percentage on the night.
Nelson’s 26 kills were the team’s best.
“I was fired up the whole time I was out there tonight, and all I wanted to do was put the ball away,” Nelson said. “We all played with so much intensity tonight, and it feels really great to win this one.”
Outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07, who paced the Bulldogs with 24 digs, said she had confidence that Yale could pull out the win in the end.
“We are a good team in a fifth game situation, and so we just knew we had to calm down and take it one point at a time,” Farrell said. “Even though we had lost the momentum in the third and fourth games, there was no doubt in my mind that we would win the last game.”
Overall, the match was evenly distributed on both sides, with both Becker and her Bear counterpart Leigh Martin registering 63 assists and both teams registering 8 total blocks. While Yale out-hit Brown 75-71, the Bears led the Bulldogs in digs 111-92, with Brown libero Elvina Kung registering a remarkable 42 digs alone.
“Brown changed up a lot of things and adjusted to us really well,” Farrell said. “They played very well against us tonight, but at the same time, I don’t think we were at our absolute best.”
After securing their first Ivy title in 26 years, the Bulldogs now turn to a playoff to see who advances to the NCAA tournament. The playoff will be held in Schenectady, N.Y. on Union College’s campus on Saturday and Sunday in single-elimination style.
Yale, which is seeded first in the playoff, will face No. 4 Harvard at 4 p.m. while Cornell and Princeton will go head to head at 7 p.m. that evening. The winners of the two matches will then battle it out for the NCAA berth in the finals on Sunday.
“Now that all of the pressure is off we can just get back to playing good volleyball,” Becker said. “I think everyone is so excited about winning an Ivy Championship and having a shot at the NCAA tournament that we will just play our best in the rest of the games.”