Undefeated teams Yale and Princeton both left the John J. Lee Amphitheater with a loss last weekend.
Friday night, the Bulldogs (11-4, 5-1 Ivy) knocked off the defending Ivy League champion Tigers, before falling to Penn (6-11, 2-3) on Saturday. Princeton (10-3, 4-1), who has not dropped a set to an Ivy League opponent this season, lost three straight to the Elis. This was the first conference lost for the Tigers since the 2006 season.
The Bulldogs topped the Tigers due to their explosive offense. Outside hitter Alexis Crusey ’10 led the team with 11 kills on 28 attempts. Cat Dailey ’10 and Laurel Johnson ’10 were right behind Crusey with nine and seven kills, respectively. Captain and setter Ally Mendenhall ’09 led the Elis’ transition game and recorded a double-double with 31 assists and 10 digs.
But the Bulldogs also showed that they are a balanced team and can dominate on defense as well. They tamed the Tigers by preventing them from hitting balls across the net. The Elis recorded 12 team blocks, compared to the two posted by Princeton. Libero Kelly Ozurovich anchored the defense with 19 digs.
From the beginning of the game, the Bulldogs came out determined to prove they were the team to beat in the Ivy League. They immediately took the lead, and had built a seven point advantage at 16-9. In the early points of the game, Princeton head coach Glenn Nelson sat idly on the bench as the game slipped away.
Every time the Tigers fought to comeback, the Bulldogs were at the net to squelch all hope. After two points from Dailey — on a block and a kill — Johnson had a kill of her own, pushing the Bulldogs to a 21-16 lead, forcing the Tigers to take their first timeout. It was in vain, as the Elis emerged from their huddle and finished Princeton off, 25-17.
The Bulldogs won in similar fashion in the second set, entering the intermission with a two game lead. By the third set, the Tigers were swinging desperately to crawl back into the match and keep their undefeated streak alive. Princeton went point-for-point with the Bulldogs until the score found the Elis leading by one at 23-22. After an error on serve by both teams, the score was 24-23. Johnson, who had finished the second set with a vicious kill, closed the game in similar fashion with a devastating hit down the middle.
“We played really well as a team tonight,” Mendenhall said. “All players on the court contributed and that’s why we were able to win.”
But the Bulldogs’ tenure as the only undefeated team in conference play was limited to a few hours. Fresh off a five-set loss to Brown on Friday night, Penn ventured into New Haven on Saturday afternoon and left as the victors in the biggest Ivy League upset so far this season.
The Quakers, who had not beaten the Bulldogs since 2003, pushed the Elis to a five-set thriller that ended in a heartbreaking loss for the home team. It was clear that Penn was playing for more than just a win. They were playing for their coach Kerry Carr, who has taken a leave of absence for the rest of the season due to her early detection of breast cancer.
“Penn brought a lot of controlled emotion to the game,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “They wanted to win for their coach and it showed in their play.”
In the first set, the Quakers opened an early five point lead at 8-3. Both teams exchanged points through the set. Down 16-20, the Elis took a timeout to stop Penn’s momentum. But the Quakers didn’t show any signs of letting up and took the set, 25-20.
In the second game, the Bulldogs looked like an entirely different team. Before Penn knew it, they were taking their second timeout of the set, down 12-4. The Quakers couldn’t cut into the Elis’ lead, and Ozurovich had a streak of six straight serves to finish the match, 25-10.
After the intermission, the third set followed the same script as the first. The game went to the wire with long rallies due to superb defensive efforts by both teams, but the Quakers took another set from the Bulldogs, 25-23. The Elis answered in the fourth set, and won, 25-22, to go to a fifth game.
After Penn won the coin flip to determine which team served first, Mendenhall chose to start the game on the same side that gave the Elis wins in the second and fourth sets. Her intuition appeared to pay-off as the Bulldogs gained a 5-2 lead over the Quakers. But Penn won the next five of six points, forcing the Elis to take a timeout, down 7-6. The Bulldogs pulled themselves together and fought back. Up 14-13, the Elis were one point away from remaining undefeated.
The Quakers then blocked Dailey to tie the game. After that, Penn had a kill that went past a diving Crusey in the back line. Both teams sensed the gravity of the moment. It was the longest rally of the match as both teams dove for every ball and fought for the next point. Ultimately, the match ended with a shot by the Bulldogs that hit just past the base line.
“Give Penn credit. They played really well,” Crusey said. “We learned that we can’t walk into any game thinking we’ll win. But know that we can play well we need to get back to that confidence.”