The Yale volleyball team ended an unprecedented season on Dec. 3, falling 0-3 (17-30, 18-30, 19-30) to fourth-seeded Minnesota in New Haven in the first ever appearance of an Ivy League team in a second round NCAA tournament match. The loss marked the end to the Bulldogs’ 10-0 run, Yale’s first trip to the tournament, and its first Ivy League Championship season since 1978.
Head coach Erin Appleman said that despite the loss, she was very pleased with the Elis’ performance against a top-10 team.
“I am very proud of my team’s efforts tonight,” Appleman said. “We attacked the ball throughout the match, and we battled very well. It wasn’t a scary event for us because we had played some tough teams before, and I think we played Minnesota in a very respectable fashion.”
While the Golden Gophers swept the Bulldogs in what remarkably was only Yale’s second home loss of the season, moments of brilliance from the Elis’ side of the net kept the games close a number of times. In the first game, outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07 slammed two straight kills off assists from setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 to steal an early Yale lead. After hanging close with Minnesota for the next 15 points, a few crucial plays allowed the Gophers to take control and eventually pull out a decisive win.
The second and third games went in similar fashion, with the record 1,159 person crowd going crazy at each Eli surge.
Minnesota head coach Mike Hebert said that he was very impressed with the atmosphere of John J. Lee Amphitheater.
“This has got to be one of the loudest gymnasiums that I have ever been in,” Hebert said. “Yale has excellent facilities, and the University was a wonderful host. This won’t be the only time Yale makes it to the tournament.”
The crowd’s energy was not enough to distract the focused Minnesota players. After seeing the Bulldogs string together a few points, the Gopher offense would respond with unstoppable attacks and impenetrable defense. The Gophers trumped the Bulldogs on the attack, boasting a .306 hitting percentage on the night to Yale’s .046 percentage. Minnesota also out-dug Yale 30-62 and posted a staggering 12 blocks on the night while not allowing Yale a single block.
Farrell said that regardless of the numbers and the stature of their opponent, the Bulldogs played without trepidation.
“I don’t think anyone was nervous before or even during the match,” Farrell said. “We played really hard, but Minnesota is an incredible team that knows the game very well. We may not have won, but I think we gave them some good competition.”
Farrell led the Bulldogs with eight kills on the evening to move into fifth on the all-time Yale list for kills in a season behind the record set by captain Jana Freeman ’05 in 2003 with 393 kills. Middle-blocker Renee Lopes ’06 added seven kills on the evening as well.
Becker notched 26 assists to end with 1,231 on the season, the second most in history for any Bulldog behind the 1,261 sets of Leigh Brezler in 1996.
While libero Anja Perlebach ’07 managed only seven digs against the Minnesota offense, she finished out the season as the all-time leader in the category in a single season with 522.
As the Gophers secured the final point of the match to end the Elis’ Cinderella season, the faithful Eli fan base showed their admiration for the players with a standing ovation.
Freeman said she could not have picked a more perfect ending to her Yale volleyball career.
“To finish up my time here playing at home in front of the biggest crowd of my career against a top 10 school — well, it just doesn’t get any better than that,” Freeman said. “I couldn’t have picked a better way to finish up my four years here, and it is something I will remember and cherish forever.”