W. VOLLEYBALL | Bulldogs top Harvard in five sets

The women’s volleyball team celebrated its 30th anniversary with a victory over Harvard in a match that went the distance. In the process, the team reminded alumnae what it means to play volleyball for Yale.

The Bulldogs (10-3, 4-0 Ivy) topped off their sweep of Dartmouth (5-9, 1-3) on Friday night with a thrilling five-set victory over the Crimson (7-9, 2-2) on Saturday.

Fresh off a sweep of Brown last weekend, the Bulldogs hosted the Big Green of Dartmouth on Friday night. The Bulldogs were lead by senior captain and setter Ally Mendenhall ’09, as well as junior outside hitters Alexis Crusey ’10 and Cat Dailey ’10, all of whom recorded double-doubles. Kelly Ozurovich ’11 anchored the Bulldogs’ defense, leading the team with 15 digs.

But the Big Green players didn’t make it easy for the Bulldogs. They kept the first two sets very close, with the hopes of upsetting the unbeaten Elis.

“Dartmouth came out competitive,” Mendenhall said. “Every team will play well because they always want to upset a team that’s undefeated.”

In the first set, Dartmouth jumped out to an early lead, forcing Yale to take a timeout down 13-18. The Bulldogs came out of their huddle ready and staged a comeback, prompting Dartmouth to take a timeout after the Elis scored five of the last six points. But the Big Green’s attempts to squelch the Bulldog’s momentum were in vain, and the Elis triumphed 25-21.

The majority of the second set followed the same script, but the teams had switched roles. After a series of momentum-stopping timeouts by both teams, the Bulldogs held onto the lead to take the second set, 25-21.

By the third set, Yale was ready to put the game to an end. The Elis never trailed the Big Green and finished the match with a 25-18 victory.

On Saturday, the Elis were back in the John J. Lee Amphitheater in what seemed like more than just another Ivy League matchup. They hosted Harvard and celebrated the program’s 30th anniversary.

Coming off a loss to Brown the night before, the Crimson was eager to upset the Bulldogs on such a meaningful night.

“We knew that Harvard wasn’t just going to roll over,” Mendenhall said. “This tradition and rivalry just goes too far back.”

But for a moment, it looked as though the Cantabs would be swept. Like the night before, Mendenhall, Dailey and Crusey each recorded double-doubles.

Heading into the intermission, the Bulldogs had the momentum, and more importantly, a two-set lead. But Harvard emerged out of the break looking like a new team.

“Coming out of the intermission is always tough,” Mendenhall said. “The other team always plays hard because they have nothing to lose.”

The Crimson sensed the pressure the Bulldogs put on themselves because of the night’s historical significance.

The visitors tried to throw the Bulldogs off their game by quickly stealing the momentum from the Elis in the third and fourth sets. They swung at every ball and blocked the Bulldogs’ shots at the net.

But Yale finally settled down and realized that they needed to fall back on the trust they had built in each other so far this season.

“When the doubt creeps into your head, you start to prepare yourself for a loss,” Mendenhall said. “But we came back to the trust we have, and we refused to lose.”

Mendenhall knew that her team could find trust not only in their teammates, but also in the alumnae in the crowd. When Harvard won the coin flip before the fifth set, they decided to take the ball. Left with the decision of what side to defend, Mendenhall chose the side opposite the home crowd. She knew that both teams would switch sides after 14 points, and she wanted to end in front of the alumnae.

But the Crimson bested the Bulldogs in the first 14 points, leading 8-6. After switching sides, the Elis dropped the next two points to fall to a 10-6 deficit. It appeared that Harvard controlled the momentum and were focused on spoiling the occasion for Yale.

But hope was not lost for the Bulldogs. All they had to do was look to the stands to find inspiration.

“Seeing the alumnae cheer us on reminded us how much this means to them,” Dailey said. “This was bigger than just one game, and we were able to feed off their energy.”

Ironically, it was a new member of the team who ignited a masterful rally from behind by the Bulldogs. Dailey took control of the fifth set with four kills in a 7-0 run lead by Julia Mailander ’10 on serve.

Mendenhall added, “We all share this appreciation for volleyball, it’s not just about the six players on the court.”

The Bulldogs will host Princeton and Penn next weekend.

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