In its season opener two weeks ago, Yale volleyball was tested against SEC powerhouse Missouri. Last week, the Bulldogs faced off against the No. 8 Stanford Cardinal. But this weekend, they will face their toughest test all season as they take on No. 1 Penn State.
After going 2–1 at the Service Academy Challenge at the Pentagon last weekend, the Elis (4–2, 0–0 Ivy) head to Pennsylvania this weekend to take part in the Penn State Classic. In addition to the Nittany Lions, they will be matched up against Eastern Kentucky and Albany.
Yale plays its first match of the tournament today against Eastern Kentucky. With a matchup looming against a high-profile team like Penn State, it would be easy to overlook the other two teams on this road trip, but the Elis have been well-prepared by their coaching staff.
“We always prepare for the first team we play,” outside hitter Mollie Rogers ’15 said. “We never overlook anyone, no matter who we’re playing.”
Eastern Kentucky (4–6, 0–0 OVC) makes the trip to Penn State having lost their last six matches. Despite the Colonels’ recent futility, the Elis spent the majority of practice this week planning for the game.
On Saturday, Yale will match up with the University of Albany (0–9, 0–0 America East), which has yet to win a single set this season. The Elis defeated the Great Danes in straight sets last year in the first victory of a 15-game winning streak. Captain Kendall Polan ’14 produced a 10-kill, 28-assist, 13-dig triple double in that match, while Rogers led the team with 15 digs to go along with her 12 kills.
Fittingly, the Bulldogs will end the tournament going up against No. 1 Penn State. The Nittany Lions (6–1, 0–0 Big 10) were national semifinalists last year and boast one of the most successful programs in NCAA history.
For the Elis, this will be the third match this year against a team with a serious height advantage, and their second match against a top 10 school. They will rely on experience gained against Missouri and Stanford to combat the prodigious size of Penn State, whose starting lineup averages 6 feet 2 inches.
“We have a sense [now] of how to maneuver a big block and dig big hitters,” outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17 said. “We competed with the bigger teams. We have high expectations for this weekend.”
Steinberg was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week after a 15-kill performance against Missouri. The team will rely on Steinberg and Rogers, who leads the team with 65 kills this season, to generate offense against the Penn State defense.
The last time the Bulldogs saw the Nittany Lions was in a heated second-round match in the 2008 NCAA tournament. Penn State dispatched the Elis in straight sets before going on to defeat Stanford for the national championship.
The Nittany Lions are coming in with some serious momentum, having won each of their last four matches in straight sets. According to Rogers, the team will look to challenge PSU’s size by serving efficiently to limit passing opportunities and aiming high on hits to neutralize blockers.
The Elis are also excited at the prospect of competing with yet another national powerhouse.
“We’ve seen them, we’ve read about them, and they’ve won before,” Rogers said. “But on any given day, anything could happen.”
The Elis take on Eastern Kentucky today at 4:30 p.m.