Volleyball secures NCAA tournament berth

The women’s volleyball team achieved the seemingly impossible on Sunday by defeating Cornell 3-2 (30-20, 30-32, 30-20, 28-30, 16-14) in the final round of the Ivy League playoff to earn Yale’s first berth to the NCAA tournament in program history. The win came on the heels of the Bulldog’s first Ivy League title since 1978, which they clinched in their win over Brown last Wednesday.

The playoff victory over Cornell amounted to the ninth straight win for the Elis, who are also undefeated in games at neutral sites (4-0). Yale beat Harvard 3-2 (20-30, 30-28, 30-20, 28-30, 15-13) in a five-game thriller Saturday night to face Cornell in the finals.

Yale Head coach Erin Appleman, who won a national title in 1999 while serving as an assistant coach at Penn State, said she was ecstatic about the outcome of the season.

“I was as pleased to win on Sunday as I was to win a national championship with Penn State,” Appleman said. “I could not be more proud of the way our girls played this weekend and for the last seven weeks in general.”

Cornell swept Princeton Friday to win their spot in the finals.

In the match against Cornell, both Yale and the Big Red came out fighting from the first whistle. Cornell got off to a shaky start, allowing the Elis to make a 16-2 run that eventually sealed a Yale win in the first game. But the Big Red fought back to win the next two matches to put the Bulldogs in a precarious situation heading into the fourth game.

“The Cornell match was a dog fight from the beginning,” setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 said. “Both teams wanted the win very badly, and we had to battle for every single point. In the end, our team was just not willing to give up.”

Yale dug deep and pulled out come-from-behind wins in the fourth and fifth games to clinch the win over the Big Red. The Elis rallied behind the standout play of outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07, who recorded a double-double on the night with a career high 31 kills and 16 digs.

Captain Jana Freeman ’05 and outside hitter Kali Nelson ’08 also had big games for the Bulldogs, notching 17 kills and 15 digs and 16 kills and 10 digs respectively.

“One of the things that has made our team so strong this season is that we have developed more than one of our girls into ‘key’ players,” Appleman said. “Each night someone new steps up, and that keeps the other team guessing and give us a huge edge.”

While Yale’s success this season has been a team effort, the Ivy League recognized three Elis for their individual play within the Ancient Eight. Becker and Farrell both earned spots on the Ivy League’s First Team, while middle blocker Renee Lopes ’06 got an honorable mention nod from the selection committee.

“Renee had a great season for us this year at middle-blocker,” Freeman said. “We have a lot of good players that get a lot of attention at the outside-hitter position, but she did a really good job of holding down the middle for us and coming up with some huge performances this season at the net.”

Currently Yale is awaiting ESPNews’ announcement of the seeding for the NCAA tournament, which will be made on the Nov. 28. The Bulldogs will most likely face off against one of the higher-ranked teams in the country. Yale has not faced a major Division 1 team since Sept. 18, when the Elis fell to Penn State 0-3 (16-30,14-30, 11-30).

Appleman and players agree that the opportunity was huge for the Yale program.

“It is a huge accomplishment for Yale, for the program I am trying to build here, and for the players,” Appleman said. “And with all of the emails and phone calls I have been getting from the alums, it’s obvious that it is a huge deal for them as well, and we really appreciate their support.”

After taking a weeklong break to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families, the Bulldogs will return to New Haven to prepare for their first NCAA tournament game in university’s history. Freeman said that she and middle blocker Lauren Burke ’05, who is also making the trip in her final season as a Yalie, were elated that all of their hard work has finally paid off.

“There is nothing better than knowing that all of the effort and sacrifices we made over the past four years are finally coming to fruition,” Freeman said. “Even though we are going to be facing a top team, I have every confidence that our team can compete with anybody.”

Yale, who received First Team recognition for the first time since 2000, was the only team within the league to land two players on the First Team list for 2004.

After earning the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award her freshman season and securing a spot on the second team last season, Becker continued to improve on her previous successes this year. She moved into second place for Yale’s all-time career assists on Nov. 17 with 3,003, and she leads the Ancient Eight in assists for this season, averaging 12.23 assists per game. Becker’s 0.37 service aces per game is also fourth best in the conference.

Becker said that after coming up short the past two seasons she was determined to do everything in her power to achieve a different outcome in her junior year.

“My sights this year were always set on the Ivy League title, but more then that, I didn’t want to regret any part of this season,” Becker said. “I didn’t ever want to look back on a match and think that I could have gone harder or played with more intensity.”

Farrell had a different score to settle for this year. After sitting out most of the 2003 season due to injury, she made up for lost time immediately by dominating the front line for the Bulldogs. She quickly propelled to the top of the Ivy League list in kills, ending up fourth in kills per game with 295. Farrell also made an impact on the defensive end, registering 3.78 digs per game, second only to the 5.57 dpg of libero Anja Perlebach ’07.

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