A brief glimmer of hope, and then the curtain fell on the volleyball team’s season.
When Ivy League title favorite Cornell lost twice last weekend, the Elis (20-4, 11-3 Ivy) discovered they had been granted a miraculous second chance to revive a season that had seemed lackluster since their second loss to the Big Red two weeks ago. The Bulldogs could still have won a portion of the conference crown. They could still have taken another swing at Cornell (19-5, 12-2) when they met in the playoff game, and then they could still have gone to the NCAA Tournament. But all of these goals hinged on beating Brown (12-13, 9-5).
The Bulldogs fell to the Bears in an emotional five-set match Wednesday night, ending the Elis’ season and crushing their hopes for a repeat title. Though Yale took the first game easily, Brown rallied behind powerful hitters Lauren Gibbs and Rikki Baldwin to claim the next two. A revitalized Eli squad dominated the fourth set, but the Bears went up 14-11 in the fifth. The Bulldogs could not recover, eventually falling, 15-12.
“We played hard, but in the end, we didn’t play hard enough,” outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07 said. “We made errors that we don’t usually make, and we just made them at the wrong time, but we still played hard, and we still had a good season. It’s too bad that we had to end on a sour note, because this game is not indicative of the season.”
With the loss, the Elis finish second in the Ivy League, a game behind Cornell and two ahead of Brown. The Big Red will take the Ivy League’s automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
The loss can be partially attributed to an incredible effort on Brown’s behalf. In their first meeting this season on Sept. 30, the Elis easily swept the Bears, but the Bulldogs faced a very different team on the court last night. Playing in front of a throng of screaming fans in their last game of the season, the Bears went for every dig and swung hard at every ball.
“Compared to the team we saw at the beginning of the season and the team we saw tonight, they’ve obviously improved a lot,” captain Christy Paluf ’06 said. “The pressure was on us. They were not fighting for a title, and it’s the end of their season. It was their seniors’ last game, and they had every reason to come out aggressively.”
The Bulldogs got off to a rocky start, allowing Brown to take the first four points off of attack errors and poor passing. A series of defensive slip-ups and several bad hits put the Bears ahead 10-4, but the Elis rebounded with a 16-1 run. Outside hitter Courtney Hall ’09 tied the set at 10-10 with a spike off a free ball from Brown, and the Elis picked up eight straight points with defensive specialist Ally Mendenhall ’09 at the service line. The Elis never looked back, and an emphatic kill from outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07 ended the set at 30-19.
Setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 opened the second game with an ace, only to have Brown quickly retaliate and take a 12-8 lead. The Elis tied the set at 15 and again at 20, even taking a brief 22-20 lead. But Brown quickly reasserted its dominance with two consecutive kills en route to a 30-26 win.
The third set was more of the same. The Elis jumped out to a quick start, leading the Bears 5-1 early on. But they could not keep up their momentum, and too many soft touches and missed digs cost the Elis the set, 28-30.
“They have a very well-balanced attack,” middle blocker Renee Lopes ’06 said. “When they are in system, they’re very difficult to play defense against. Their touches are fine, their hitters are very good, and they played a great match tonight, better than I’ve ever seen them play before.”
In the fourth game, the Elis looked poised for a comeback. They jumped out to a 12-6 lead and never looked back. The Bears tried to rally, narrowing the gap to 13-11 at one point, but Brown would get no closer. The Elis eventually won, 30-21, evening the match score at 2-2 to force a decisive fifth game.
“In general, our passing picked up and was solid, and our offense was being aggressive,” Paluf said. “We were taking good, smart swings at the ball.”
The final set saw the Elis repeat their woes from the second and third. The back-and-forth scoring was more a result of exchanged errors than well-earned points for both sides. Yale led the set at 10-9, but Brown tied the score at 11 and continued on to a 14-11 advantage, forcing a Yale timeout. After the break, the Bulldogs managed to take just one point off the Bears before Brown middle blocker Julie Mandolini-Trummel knocked down an Eli kill attempt to end the match.
“We’re heartbroken,” Farrell said. “First of all, I think that they played outstanding. They came out swinging. They came out ready to compete, and we just couldn’t handle them.”
Though the loss was disappointing, team members said the fact that the Bulldogs found themselves in a situation where they were battling for a repeat Ivy League title is a good sign for the future.
“The volleyball program in general has changed immensely since when I was a freshman,” Lopes said. “And I think the expectations that we have of this program and of each other are so great compared to then. This is only [head coach] Erin [Appleman's] third year as the volleyball coach, and she’s taken a program that was consistently in the bottom tier of the Ivy League and made it one of the most dominant teams, and I’m confident that our team will continue to improve.”