Elis outlast UConn in five-game marathon

The ride from Storrs to New Haven is around sixty minutes. Two and a half hours of volleyball and a five-game Yale win later, UConn’s ride home probably felt even longer.

The volleyball team (3-1) stepped onto its home floor last night and handed a talented and powerful University of Connecticut team (8-1) its first loss of the season, 3-2. The cheers of a boisterous and engaged crowd resonated throughout the John J. Lee Amphitheater and helped the Elis to a late rally, sealing UConn’s fate in an emotionally charged, lengthy match.

The Bulldogs won the first game, 30-24, only to drop the next two, 26-30 and 28-30. Behind, 1-2, and battling surging Huskies momentum, the team found a way to win the fourth game, 30-27, and the deciding fifth, 15-11. Outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07 had 21 kills, 10 digs and five blocks, while Alexis Crusey ’10 added 24 kills and 19 digs. Laurel Johnson ’10 led the team in blocks with eight.

The squad came out strong in the first game and controlled the tempo. The team’s poised play, in combination with the efforts of ubiquitous libero Anja Perlebach ’07 and potent outside hitters Farrell and Crusey, kept the Huskies at bay early in the match.

“We knew they were a big, powerful team and we were a more controlled, defensive team,” Perlebach ’07 said. “We had to make them play our game. We had to keep the ball in play and pass well rather than try to outhit them.”

As the match progressed, UConn started coming up with the big plays and the big shots. The Bulldogs began to waver from their initial strategy and lost two hotly contested games to find themselves with their backs against the wall.

Yale head coach Erin Appleman said she saw the need to keep her team composed.

“We gave them an eight-point lead in game three, and then we ended up all [of a] sudden with a chance to win,” she said. “I told them … as long as we don’t give someone a cushion of five or six points, we should be okay.”

The gym was buzzing with support that seemed to intensify with each point won and lost in the second and third games. The girls came together and decided they simply could not give away the match.

“We just told ourselves to believe, and we told ourselves we wanted it more,” Crusey said.

The Bulldogs’ early fourth-game attack allowed them to maintain a slight edge and overcome several UConn runs. Big shots at the net kept the drama high and the crowd fully energized. There was a clear shift in momentum, one the Bulldogs would not relinquish for the rest of the match.

“This was our first home match, we had a great crowd, and we weren’t going to lose,” Perlebach said. “We couldn’t accept anything less than our best at that point. We had to lay it all on the line.”

A final spike from Farrell in the fifth game gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 comeback victory and accentuated the memorable home opener.

The win marks the first time Yale has ever posted back-to-back victories over the Huskies.

“I think it was a good team effort,” Appleman said. “Every one of our players did what they had to do to win the match.”

The Elis will travel to the Pacific Tournament in northern California this weekend to play Montreal, Pacific and Cal. They then return to New Haven for the Yale Classic on Sept. 22.

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