VOLLEYBALL | Elis battle for first

The Bulldogs have yet to be pushed to five sets in an Ivy League match this season and have only lost two sets in total over five matches.
The Bulldogs have yet to be pushed to five sets in an Ivy League match this season and have only lost two sets in total over five matches. Photo by Blair Seideman.

A clash of giants is coming to the John J. Lee Amphitheater.

The volleyball team will fight Princeton for sole possession of first place in the Ivy League tonight in what should be Yale’s most exciting home match of the season. The two sides are tied atop the Ivy standings with identical 5–0 conference records after finishing in the top two spots in the league last season.

“We’re all really excited about this,” setter Kendall Polan ’14 said. “To be 5–0 and to be able to fight for first place in the Ivy League is going to be really fun.”

The Elis (9­–5, 5–0 Ivy) will follow up Friday’s marquee matchup with another exciting contest against Penn (8–8, 3–2 Ivy) on Saturday. Including the Quakers, the three sides that will be playing at Yale this weekend have been amongst the league’s strongest programs in recent years, together winning the past five Ivy titles and 11 of the past 13 overall.

The Bulldogs have played every other Ivy team on their schedule but have yet to be seriously challenged in league play. They have won their first five conference matches without being forced to play a fifth set and have only dropped two sets in total. That run has included 3–0 sweeps of Cornell, Columbia and Harvard.

Looking at Princeton’s results, it is hard to say how Friday night’s match will go. The Tigers (8–7, 5–0 Ivy) have had a couple close calls already this season but still sport a spotless Ivy record. Their first two conference matches of the year ended in narrow 3–2 victories over Penn and Harvard. The Tigers went down 2–1 in both those matches and had to fight back to take the wins.

“Princeton is a really strong team,” Polan said. “We have to come out strong from the beginning, be stable the entire match and then not let up.”

Last season, Princeton was Yale’s most dangerous opponent. The Tigers finished second in the conference and dealt Yale one of its two Ivy losses of the season, a 3–1 defeat at Princeton. That match put the two sides in a tie atop the conference standings that lasted until Yale defeated Princeton on the penultimate weekend of the regular season to pull ahead for good.

Senior outside hitter Lydia Rudnick is a big reason why Princeton poses such a challenge. Rudnick, who is the sister of Yale libero Maddie Rudnick ’15, is 27th in the nation and first in the conference in kills, averaging 4.25 per set. In last season’s action, Rudnick torched the Elis for 25 kills on .434 hitting during the teams’ first meeting of the season. But the second time around, Yale held her to 17 kills on a .250 hitting percentage, in a 3–1 victory.

“You have to do the best you can blocking and defensively and hope that you can be successful against [Rudnick],” head coach Erin Appleman said. “She’s extremely talented but hopefully by having a balanced attack on our side we’ll be able to contain her.”

Leading Penn on Saturday will be junior libero Dani Shepherd, who is coming off her first Ivy League Player of the Week award and leads the nation in digs per set with 6.63. Her exploits have been the centerpiece of Penn’s team defense, which is one of the best in the nation. The Quakers are ranked first among all Division I squads in digs per set with 21.25.

But the Quaker defense will be put to the test by a red-hot Yale offense. The Bulldogs currently are ranked fourth in the nation with 14.83 kills per set and sixth in assists with 13.81 per set. Last weekend, setter Kelly Johnson ’16 was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week for the second time this season after serving as Yale’s primary offensive catalyst. Johnson hit .405 with 3.14 kills per set and 6.29 assists per set in road matches against Dartmouth and Harvard.

The action tips off at 7 p.m. on Friday night against Princeton and resumes at 5 p.m. Saturday against Penn.

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