The Yale volleyball team lost a heartbreaking five-set thriller, ending their hopes of a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs (18–8, 12–2 Ivy) lost to the Quakers 2–3 (18–25, 18–25, 25–23, 25–17, 8–15) for this first defeat at home this season and only their second home defeat in two years.
“I do not think we played our best volleyball,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “We came out strong and then took our foot off the gas pedal. We were not prepared for the magnitude of the match.”
The Elis got off to a fast start, but were unable to hold onto the momentum in the first set. The team went on an early 9–0 run to give themselves a seemingly decisive lead in the opener. However, Penn responded by winning 23 of the next 30 points en route to a 25–18 first set victory. It was the Bulldogs’ first dropped set since a 22–25 game loss against Dartmouth on Oct. 23.
In the Bulldogs’ previous matches leading up to the playoff game against Penn, they typically controlled both the tempo and tone of each of the matches. The team won 10 consecutive matches, and 20 straight sets before last Sunday’s playoff game. However, Appleman said the pressure of the game may have steered the result in favor of a more senior Quaker team.
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“Our youth really got to us,” Appleman said. “It was hard to fight through that adversity. For the last 10 games, we were in control of the situations.”
The second set was more straightforward for the Quakers despite Yale’s best attempts to adjust to the aggressive Penn attack. Penn coasted to a 2–0 advantage without trailing once in the second set.
After the break, the third set exhibited the finest efforts from the Bulldogs to claw their way back into the match. After a 22–22 tie, strong play from freshman Kendall Polan ’14, Ivy League Rookie of the Year, helped spark a Yale comeback to take the set 25–23.
“The season taught me not to fear adversity, but instead to take each struggle as an opportunity to learn and grow both as a person and a player,” McHaney Carter ’14 said.
The fourth set saw Yale continue the momentum they built up in the later portion of the third game. After a 4–4 tie, the Bulldogs took a 10–5 lead with strong performances from Polan, Erica Reetz ’14 and Bridget Hearst ’12.
Penn fought back to cut the lead to 14–12, but the Bulldogs would not give up the advantage again. The Elis won the eight of the last 11 points to end the set.
In the deciding fifth set, the Elis started out with a 3–1 lead after Reetz hit a service ace. However, Penn’s Lauren Martin, who had a match-best 22 kills, tied the score with two consecutive points.
Yale regained the lead with a Bridget Hearst ’12 kill, but Penn responded by winning the next six points. After a Haley Wessels ’13 kill that broke the Quakers’ run, the Bulldogs would not get any closer to challenging the lead.
“We were nervous and we tightened up,” captain Kelly Ozurovich ’11 said. “We wanted to fight as hard as possible, we loosened up and wanted to have fun.”
For Ozurovich, it was her last match as a Bulldog and despite their loss, she led the match with 32 digs. Ozurovich added 512 digs on the season, adding to her program-best total.
Though the game ended the season for the Bulldogs, Appleman said the Elis were able to draw on many positive aspects such as breakout performances from upperclassmen who previously received little playing time. The Bulldogs fought back from a 2–2 start in the Ivy League conference to win 10 straight to take a share of the Ivy League title.
“We exceeded expectations,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “For me, it was one of the most enjoyable years of coaching.”
Penn will face Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament Dec. 3.