The greatest season in Yale volleyball history is over.
The Bulldogs (18–6, 14–0 Ivy) fell 3–2 to Bowling Green in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday evening at Penn State, breaking the team’s 15-match winning streak that dated back to a Sep. 19 victory over Albany. The loss came after just the second 14–0 season in Ivy League history and the team’s fourth conference title in five seasons.
“It’s a lot of pressure, playing at that level the whole year,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “It’s so mental, and I thought they did a great job of balancing that out with the physical aspect of just being good players.”
Yale certainly gave the Falcons (22–11, 13–3 MAC) all they could handle. The Bulldogs went down 2–1 after being dominated in the second and third games, but turned it on in the fourth set to route Bowling Green 25–13 and push the match to the tiebreaker. Yale held a 9–7 lead in the deciding game but unraveled following a service error from setter Kendall Polan ’14 and fell 15–11.
“Two of those sets, we weren’t ourselves at all,” Appleman said. “That’s the part that is so heartbreaking. Nobody likes losing but when you don’t play to your potential, that’s the hardest part.”
The Bulldogs sent Bowling Green a message early by routing the Falcons 25–16 in the opening set to take a 1–0 lead. Setter Kelly Johnson ’16 provided the early spark for the Elis, scoring three of the team’s first six points and recording five kills and four assists in the set overall. That was part of an impressive postseason debut for Johnson, who logged a team-high 12 kills to go along with 12 assists on the match.
“There were definitely some nerves [before the match],” Johnson said. “But as a team, we went out and we were confident. We had nothing to lose, so we played our hearts out.”
After the shocking first-set loss, the Falcons rebounded and took a 2–1 lead with decisive victories in the second and third sets. In the second game, the Elis fell into an early 7–1 hole and recorded a meager .025 hitting percentage as Bowling Green took a 25–15 victory. The third set was all Paige Penrod as the Falcons junior outside hitter exploded for eight of her match-high 16 kills after notching just four in the first two sets combined.
But the Elis did not do themselves any favors in the middle set, committing two crucial service errors down the stretch to open up an opportunity for Bowling Green. After Yale pulled within 16–15, outside hitter Mollie Rogers ’15 hit one into the net and libero Christine Wu ’16 committed one herself with the Bulldogs trailing 20–17.
But the Bulldogs stepped up on the defensive end in the fourth set and recorded five blocks to hold the Falcons to a –.171 hitting percentage, which was their lowest of the match. With an 11–10 lead, Yale took advantage of four consecutive Bowling Green attack errors and a service ace from libero Maddie Rudnick ’15 to capture a 25–13 blowout win.
“In the second and third sets we were playing a little scared,” Rogers said. “We weren’t really playing our game. Before the fourth set we said, ‘This is our last chance so let’s just go out there, have fun and trust each other.’ We were more relaxed and really went for it.”
In the fifth and deciding game the two sides were neck-and-neck for the first time in the match. They had already had five ties when Danielle Tonyan’s attack error evened the score at seven. Middle blocker McHaney Carter ’14 then recorded one of her nine kills and Polan delivered the service ace to put Yale up by two.
But the Bulldogs could not hold on. The Falcons went on an 8–2 run and Penrod scored two of Bowling Green’s last three points to give the Falcons the 15–11 win. The 3–2 loss was Yale’s first five-set match of the season after the team played in four such matches last season. Bowling Green was playing in its 10th five-set match of the year after winning eight of its first nine.
“I don’t think [playing five sets] had anything to do with the loss,” Appleman said. “I don’t think it caught us off-guard. We came out strong in the first game then we were not very good in the second. If we had been able to maintain our intensity and our drive I think it would have been a different story.”
Bowling Green went on to fall 3–0 to Penn State in its second-round match on Saturday night.