VOLLEYBALL | Victory in NCAA opener

After a victory in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, the women’s volleyball team’s run has come to an end at the hands of the defending champions.

The Bulldogs (21-6, 13-1 Ivy) defeated Ohio University (24-8) on Friday, only to fall to No. 1 Penn State (34-0) the following day.

After receiving a bid to the tournament by winning the Ivy League, the Elis proved with their win over the Bobcats that they can compete on the national level.

“We wanted people to know that there is good volleyball played in the Ivy League,” outside hitter Cat Dailey ’10 said. “And we proved that we deserve to be there.”

The first game of the tournament opened with a kill by Dailey and was followed by an early run by the Bulldogs, building to a 10-5 lead. Ohio took its first timeout, trying to end the Elis’ momentum. But Yale would not be denied, stringing together a series of plays to push the score to 19-12. It was only then that the Bobcats went on their own run, cutting the lead to four with the Elis up, 21-17.

A timeout by Yale gave the Bulldogs a minute to regroup, and the Elis came out of their huddle ready to end the first set, and went on a 4-2 run to end the set, 25-19.

With the first set under their belts, both teams seemed to find a rhythm in the second set. Exchanging points for the entire set, the Bulldogs and Bobcats were deadlocked at 23-23. It was only then that Ohio took its first lead of the match. The Bobcats connected on two plays to win the final points of the set, tying the match at one game apiece.

After the intermission, the two teams once again went for point for point. Although the Elis took the third set, the Bobcats countered by stealing the fourth.

In the decisive fifth set, Yale and Ohio found themselves tied at 13-13. The Bobcats hit an off-pace shot that fooled the Elis, giving them the lead at 14-13. The next rally ended with an Ohio shot that landed out of bounds, bring the game to another stalemate. After an error by the Bobcats, the Bulldogs were one point away from victory. Outside hitter Alexis Crusey ’10 hit the final shot cross court, and the Bulldogs advanced to the second round.

Head coach Erin Appleman had taken a timeout when the Elis were down 13-11. She told her players to just worry more about having fun and playing together than about the numbers on the score board.

“I just wanted to remind them to enjoy the moment,” she said. “And they went out and did just that, fighting for every point to get the win.”

Dailey led the team with 20 kills and 15 digs, while Crusey contributed to the Bulldogs’ victory with 14 kills and 16 digs. Captain and setter Ally Mendenhall ’09 dished out 36 assists, in addition to a team-high 18 digs.

The win was the first by an Ivy squad in the NCAA Tournament since the Bulldogs’ last postseason appearance in 2004. In that season, the Elis won their first match only to see their run ended by No. 4 Minnesota in the second round.

On Saturday, the Bulldogs followed a similar script, losing to the defending champion Penn State. The Nittany Lions have not lost this season, including in a match against the Bulldogs on Sept. 19.

Penn State’s win steamed from their team’s physical superiority at the net. The tallest player on Yale’s roster stands at 6’2”, three inches shorter than the tallest players for the Nittany Lions. The height advantage translated into 12.5 blocks for Penn State, compared to just six for Yale. It was this defensive effort that seemed to kill the Elis’ spirits. The Bulldogs simply couldn’t find rhythm with its opponents at the net blocking their attempts.

But Yale would not go without a fight in this rematch. The Elis fought hard against the Nittany Lions, trailing them by only one point in the first set, 11-10. But the top seed proved that they were the team to beat, going on a 9-3 run. Yale took a timeout, hoping to squelch Penn State’s momentum, but the Lions showed no signs of letting up, finishing the set 25-18.

The last time Yale played Penn State, they only took seven points off the defending champions.

“The first game was evidence that we can really play with some great teams,” Mendenhall said.

The second set was more lopsided, as the Nittany Lions led the whole way. Ultimately, Penn State overpowered Yale, taking the set 25-11.

With their backs against the wall, the Bulldogs came out swinging, but their efforts were countered by the top seed in the tournament.

Down 10-2, the Elis took their first timeout of the set. The Bulldogs won the first point after the pause, but the Nittany Lions built their lead to 18-9, forcing the Elis to take their second timeout. This time however, the Bulldogs could not find the necessary momentum to get back into the match, and Penn State ended Yale’s season, 25-12.

“The game was not a tough loss at all,” Appleman said. “Penn State could be the best volleyball team ever. I could not be prouder of the way we played. We competed at the highest level.”

Although the Bulldogs lost the match against Penn State, the team has established a presence both in the Ivy League and on the national level. Losing only one starter, Mendenhall, after this season, the Elis will certainly be back next year. The return of Ivy League Player of the Year Dailey, as well as Crusey and libero Kelly Ozurovich ’11, should make the Bulldogs just as successful next year.

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