The defending Ivy League champion volleyball team started its season off with a bang at the Yale Invitational.
Matching up against three strong volleyball schools, the Elis — who showcased a mix of offense and defense that led them to a perfect 14-0 record in the Ivy League last year — posted a 2-1 record against Missouri, Colgate and Seton Hall over the weekend.
The first match was against the SEC’s Missouri, who managed to hold the Bulldogs off in three out of four sets, despite an enthusiastic Yale home crowd.
After dropping the first set 25-23, the Elis rallied back in the second to deliver a strong 25-15 win, the biggest margin of victory for either team in the match.
In her usual versatile manner, setter Kelly Johnson ’16 produced a team high 26 assists to go along with 10 digs and eight kills. Her well rounded stat-line was matched by captain Kendall Polan ’14, who posted a 10 kill, 22 assist, 19 dig triple-double to start off the season.
But it was Missouri who prevailed this time around, winning the next two sets by six and five points, respectively.
The match was competitive despite Missouri’s higher national ranking. Johnson said that playing stronger opponents will improve the team in the long run.
“It really helps push us to become better players and a better team,” Johnson said. “That was one of the reasons we were so fired up.”
Outside hitter Mollie Rogers ’15, who led the team with 15 kills, echoed Johnson’s sentiment.
“We had nothing to lose,” Rogers said. “We did a good job going all out and being really aggressive.”
The second day of the Yale Invitational gave the Bulldogs another chance at their first win of the season, as they made up for the loss against Missouri by defeating Colgate.
The entire team contributed to a well-rounded attack responsible for routing Colgate in straight sets. With a focus on “playing Yale volleyball,” as Rogers put it, the Elis led by a margin of 12 and finished up the set 25-20. They never looked back, winning the next two competitive sets 25-20 and 25-19.
Rogers once again led the team with nine kills, but this time she was joined by middle blocker Jesse Ebner ’16, who also had nine kills. Middle blocker McHaney Carter ’14 and Johnson both had eight kills.
While the Elis prevailed over the Seton Hall Pirates in their third and final match of the weekend, the victory did not come easily. After taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the match, the Elis looked to be on the way to another sweep. The Pirates, however, had other plans, rallying and winning back-to-back sets by scores of 25-23.
Johnson posted her own triple-double, while Polan led the team with a phenomenal 45 assists, and Rogers joined with 17 kills. The team’s defense was, as always, a group effort, with Polan, Johnson and libero Maddie Rudnick ’15 each recording double-digit digs. Rudnick led the team with 29 digs, one short of her career high.
The key to regrouping after dropping two sets in a row, Johnson said, was a return to what got them there in the first place.
“We just needed to stay calm and stay focused,” she said. “We tensed up a little bit after the third set. We didn’t play like ourselves. But Kendall is great at calming us down. I think we have a good mentality when we get into a rut like that.”
Outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17, who is third on the team in points and second in kills per set, and the rest of the freshman class contributed to the team’s stellar performance over the weekend. Steinberg and her classmates Lucy Tashman ’17, Tori Shepherd ’17 and Claire Feeley ’17 are poised to make an impact for the Bulldogs by helping replace the graduated Haley Wessels ’13, who served as captain of the team last year.
The incoming players already have strong support from older members of the team like Johnson.
“I was very impressed with the talent coming in,” she said. “They’ve molded well with the team and the environment and they’re just going to get better.”
As for team goals, there really only is one thing on the mind of the undefeated team from last year: a repeat performance.
“Our goal is to win the Ivy League,” Rogers said. “Right now, we’re just trying to figure out what our game is, since we’ve only been playing together for a few weeks, but I think we’re well on our way to that.”
The Elis will travel to Washington, D.C. for the Pentagon Tournament on Friday.