Cornell losses put vball back in title hunt

Two weekends ago, a devastating loss to Cornell seemed to spell the end of the volleyball team’s hunt for the Ivy League title and for an NCAA Tournament berth.

This past weekend, four decisive matches reawakened the Elis’ dormant hopes.

Minutes after the Bulldogs’ (20-3, 11-2 Ivy) victory over Harvard (3-21, 0-14) Saturday, the Yale locker room erupted into excited screams. But the Bulldogs were celebrating more than their recent win over the Cantabs. While the Elis were taking down Dartmouth (12-12, 5-9) and Harvard this weekend, the Killer Ps uprooted Cornell (19-5, 12-2 Ivy), the clear-cut favorite for the conference crown, giving the Bulldogs an opportunity they thought had already passed.

“Second chances don’t come around like this everyday,” setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 said. “We knew that Cornell had lost to Penn the night before and that the pressure was all on them to pull out a win against Princeton. We were just hoping for the best, but we weren’t holding our breath.”

Heading into the weekend, the only way the Elis could have captured a share of the Ivy League title was if Cornell dropped both of its games and the Bulldogs won both of theirs. Considering that the Big Red was well on its way to claiming the first 14-0 season in Ivy League volleyball history and that Penn and Princeton had mediocre league records, that “if” was almost inconceivable. But apparently, inconceivable does not equal impossible.

“It’s kind of unbelievable to me at this point,” outside hitter Nicole Perkins ’08 said. “I think all of us knew there was always a chance, but we never really believed it would happen. It’s almost intangible. I think until we win at Brown and it’s solidified, it’ll be hard to believe.”

A balanced performance gave the Elis the two crucial 3-1 wins over Dartmouth and Harvard they needed to set them up for this upcoming week’s feverish competition. The Elis came out strong against Dartmouth Friday night, with outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07 leading the way with 24 kills and 14 digs. Lopes and fellow middle blocker Kristin Wilk ’09 also tallied double-digit kills (18 and 11, respectively) while libero Anja Perlebach ’07 added another 14 digs. Wilk led all players with five blocks.

Against Harvard the following day, Farrell again paced the Bulldogs, this time racking up 23 kills and tying Perlebach for a team-high 21 digs. Becker contributed a double-double of her own to the victory, setting up 54 assists and collecting 15 digs. Wilk, Lopes and Perkins slammed down double-digit kills and defensive specialists Ally Mendenhall ’09 and Maribeth Martens ’08 rounded out the back-row effort with 10 and 17 digs, respectively.

Now all of the Elis’ hopes hinge on Wednesday’s matchup against Brown (11-13, 8-5). If the Bulldogs win, they earn their second Ivy League title in two years. They will then move on to a playoff Nov. 19 against Cornell to determine which team gets the Ancient Eight’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

“It is still so surreal,” Renee Lopes ’06 said. “We really never saw this coming. These losses from Cornell have given us the opportunity to take that title potential back into our control, and I know my team is determined do everything we can to get this win on Wednesday.”

The Big Red handed the Bulldogs their only home loss of the season on Oct. 28 after defeating the Elis in Ithaca Oct. 8. Needless to say, the Bulldogs are looking forward to getting one more shot at the Big Red.

“I haven’t stopped thinking about the Cornell match since the moment the last ball hit the court,” Becker said. “I have replayed the plays over and over again in my head and have dreamed of getting a second chance like this.”

Brown will not be an easy victory for the Bulldogs. The Bears rest in third place in the league standings, just behind the Elis, and their athleticism and unpredictability will present a challenge. Brown’s team possesses weak fundamental skills, but also a huge drive to win.

“Brown’s very good,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “They have a couple very athletic people and some other players who do a really good job. I think Brown will be a good test for us and I’m looking forward to that.”

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