Last weekend’s loss at Cornell brought a soaring volleyball team down to earth. Now, back at home, it’s time to see if the Bulldogs can pick themselves up.
In their third week of conference play, the Elis (11-2, 2-1 Ivy) will face Harvard (3-11, 0-4) tonight and Dartmouth (9-5, 2-2) Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs are coming into the game off of a split weekend on the road, during which they downed Columbia, 3-1, but fell to Cornell, 3-1. Yale has not lost at home this season, and the Elis are anxious to maintain their success.
“I am very excited going into this weekend,” libero Anja Perlebach ’07 said. “Hopefully, we get a big crowd and remain undefeated at home. We saw the mistakes we made last weekend, and have been working very hard in practice this week. It comes down to doing the little things right.”
Though most Ivy League teams only have three or four games under their belts at this point, the conference standings are beginning to take shape. Penn and Cornell jumped out to the quick lead, and both are 3-0 in Ancient Eight play. The Elis were firsthand witnesses to Cornell’s strengths last weekend, as Big Red hitters combined for a .294 hitting percentage and standout Elizabeth Bishop dominated the match with 21 kills and 12 digs. The Bulldogs have yet to face Penn, but the Quakers are familiar enough opponents for the Elis that they recognize the challenge presented.
“I think Penn was a pretty young team last year, but I think the staff and the returning players are very used to winning,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “They’re always a team to beat and they’ve won the most championships in the last couple years.”
Yale, which is tied with Princeton for third place, trails just behind the pack leaders, but the Elis dominate the Ivy League statistics. Yale is ranked in the top three in every statistical category, and leads the league in opponent hitting percentage, assists and digs. Setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 boosts the Eli attack with a league-leading 12.72 assists per game and Perlebach is second in the conference in digs per game with 5.18.
The Elis’ first opponent, Harvard, is stuck in last place in the league. After falling to Penn and Princeton on the road last weekend, the Crimson enter tonight’s match seeking their first league win this season. Though Harvard lost many of last season’s top players to graduation, sophomore outside hitter and 2004 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Laura Mahon has paced the Cantabs with four double-doubles in their last seven games. In Harvard’s 3-0 loss to Princeton, Mahon had 18 kills, 10 digs and boasted a .350 hitting percentage.
“I’m extremely anxious about playing them because of the fact that they’re 0-4,” Appleman said. “I know that they’re going to want to come in here and want to win. They’re a team that never gives up. They fight hard and they play well as a team.”
Dartmouth defeated the Crimson twice for its only conference wins of the season, good enough to put the Big Green fifth in the conference standings. In matches nearly identical to Harvard’s, Dartmouth dropped matches to Penn, 3-1, and Princeton, 3-0, last weekend. Setter Katie Hirsch enters this weekend on fire, having recorded her second triple-double of the season Saturday against the Quakers. She nailed 10 kills, served up 28 assists and had 10 digs.
“Dartmouth has always been a very up and down team,” Becker said. “Last year when they beat us, they had a lot of young talent. This year I think they’re an even better team. They get really fired up and they’re kind of scary in that sense. But if we play our game, I know we can handle them.”
One of the things the Elis will need to be wary of when they play Dartmouth is the team’s attack. The Big Green play with three hitters in the front row in every rotation, allowing them to be a bit more attack-oriented than other teams and to distribute the ball more evenly between their hitters. A key player in this offense is freshman outside hitter Jess Thomas, who was recently named Ivy League Rookie of the Week after averaging 4.34 kills per game and a .304 hitting percentage in a weekend sweep of Harvard and Sacred Heart.
Despite the Elis’ success at home this season, and the struggles that Harvard and Dartmouth have seen recently, the Bulldogs recognize that in a conference as volatile as the Ancient Eight, nothing can be taken for granted.
“At any point on any given night, any team can beat any other team,” Becker said. “The teams are all pretty even and it just depends who shows up to play. Everyone has to play well to beat another team. No one can just cruise through a game and expect to win.”