At this point last season, the women’s volleyball team appeared to be in good shape. The Elis had gone 5-3 in their preseason play, were on a four-game win streak and had just taken first place at the Yale Classic.
Then the Elis met Brown on the road for their conference opener, and their season took a turn for the worse. The Bulldogs fell to the Bears in five sets and continued their downhill slide to a 3-4 mid-season league record, forcing the Elis to play catchup for the remainder of the year.
Yale will host Brown Friday night in its first Ivy League contest of the year — this time in hopes of getting its Ancient Eight campaign off on the right foot.
“Our goals for this season are just to really stay consistent and take one game at a time,” outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07 said. “We definitely do not want to start off the way we did last year, so a main focus of ours is to start off the first point of the first game with intensity and keep it the entire season.”
Though the Elis are excited about finally facing Ivy foes, there is an additional pressure to conference games that does not exist in regular season play. Every game counts toward the league standings, and the champion, which automatically wins a bid to the NCAA Tournament, is often decided by a single game.
Last year was no exception. After the end of regular season play, four teams were tied for first, and had to compete in a playoff to see which team would come away with the much-coveted NCAA Tournament berth.
Yale managed to defeat Cornell in the championship of the playoff to claim the team’s first trip to the Dance in Yale’s history.
Undoubtedly, the Elis are exhibiting some jitters as the Ivy season kicks off.
“I think there’s a sense of urgency, of being a little nervous about the first Ivy game,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “It’s always nice to be at home for your first one. I think the players are excited to start this part of the season.”
Brown brings a major offensive threat to the court this season. The Bears return senior setter Leigh Martin, who has 404 assists so far this season, including 73 in Brown’s last outing, a 3-2 win over Stony Brook last weekend. Martin sets up several strong hitters, including Lauren Gibbs and Shawn Tulac, who each have over 100 kills on the season.
“Brown has a couple of powerhouse hitters,” middle blocker Adele Sweetnam ’06 said. “But we’ve been practicing defending against the offenses they run in drills.”
One of the many challenges of the Ivy League season is that teams never know quite what to expect from each other. Although yearly matches should promote a certain level of familiarity among Ancient Eight opponents, it can often be tough to predict what a team will bring to the court.
“What’s difficult about Ivies is that every year a team that wasn’t as strong the previous year is stronger and more difficult to face,” Farrell said. “You can never go into a game thinking, ‘We beat them last year, we should be fine this year,’ because everyone has new talent and new drive.”