VOLLEYBALL | Bulldogs fall to No. 1 Penn State

Outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17, the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Week, hit six kills and added nine digs against Albany.
Outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17, the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Week, hit six kills and added nine digs against Albany. Photo by Marisa Lowe.

In its second straight tournament on the road, the women’s volleyball team was matched up against yet another national contender.

Over the weekend, the team faced the nation’s top volleyball team, Penn State at its home tournament in State College, Penn. Though the Elis (6–2, 0–0 Ivy) were able to dispatch Eastern Kentucky and Albany by scores of 3–1 and 3–0, respectively, they fell the Nittany Lions in straight sets.

Eastern Kentucky came into its match against Yale on Friday having lost its last six bouts. Nevertheless, the Colonels kept it competitive through the first two sets. After a 25–20 Yale victory in the first set, Eastern Kentucky rebounded to narrowly win the second one by a score 28–26.

Outside hitter Mollie Rogers ’15 said the team, sensing they were playing below their abilities, approached the third set with renewed aggressiveness.

“We just weren’t playing Yale volleyball,” Rogers said. “After that set we got together and said, ‘Hey this isn’t how we play. We have to be more aggressive. We have to go for balls. We have to take advantage of what they can’t do.’ We came out and just played much better.”

In the third set, the Elis obliterated the Colonels with 13 kills on .522 hitting, winning the set by a score of 25–8. Captain Kendall Polan ’14 produced an impressive 42 assists and 18 digs in the match — both marks led the Elis — but she deflected all praise to the rest of the team, in particular middle blocker Jesse Ebner ’16.

“[Ebner] got a kill almost every single time I set the ball for her,” Polan said. “She definitely stepped up to the plate and played at a level that she had never played before. I was really impressed.”

In that crucial third set, Ebner produced five kills, two block assists and a service ace. She finished the game with 16 kills on .433 hitting to go along with 10 digs, 4 aces and 4 block assists.

Ebner also pointed to the overall team play as key for her individual performance.

“I think it was just a matter of everything coming together,” Ebner said. “I thought this weekend I was just connecting with the setters really well and our passing was really good, so that made it easier for me to perform.”

On Saturday, the Elis faced Albany, a team that had yet to win a set all season. Yale put together a defensive clinic, producing 10 blocks and 46 digs as a team, as they routed Albany in straight sets and extended the Great Danes’ losing streak.

Rogers put together a strong performance with 12 kills, seven digs and three service aces.

“It’s comforting knowing that we can rely on our defense to win matches for us,” Rogers said. “We know that we can adjust to different teams.”

The Elis ended the tournament against No. 1 Penn State. Polan said the Nittany Lions boast a combination of height, athleticism and talent that makes them a very formidable opponent.

The only loss Penn State has suffered this season was against No. 6 Texas. Their stellar record, in combination with their frequent lineup changes, made the nation’s No. 1 team hard to scout, Ebner said.

“Our focus going into the game was to concentrate on our side,” Ebner said, ”because if we didn’t take care of the little things, if we were making unforced errors or not being smart, then we were not going to get any points off them.”

The game plan for the Elis centered on tough serving to limit defensive opportunities and to neutralize Penn State’s size and athleticism. Midway through the first set, with the score at 17–11 in favor of Penn State, the Elis caused three consecutive attack errors and forced a Nittany Lion timeout with Yale trailing by only three points. Penn State came out of the time out and held on to win the first set, 25–16.

The Elis kept the match close through the first half of the second set, before a 12–2 run left Penn State ahead 24–12. Yale was able to take the next five points before succumbing to a kill by Penn State.

The Nittany Lions handily took the third set by a score of 25–6, showing how they earned the nation’s top spot.

“Things just didn’t really go our way [in the third set],” Polan said. “I think they didn’t realize that the first two sets would be so close, so they came out and really played their A-game [in the final set].”

The Bulldogs took solace in the fact that they held Penn State’s Micha Hancock ’15, the nation leader in aces per set at 0.96, to just one service ace through three sets.

For their strong performances throughout the tournament, Rogers and Ebner were selected to the all-tournament team, a distinction their captain considered well deserved.

The team will now come back to Yale for a five-game in-conference homestand. After playing national giants Stanford and Penn State, the Bulldogs will now focus on repeating their undefeated Ivy League performance last season.

“We haven’t seen these teams play yet,” Rogers said. “We have to take it one match at a time. We’ll scout them well and play our game.”

The Elis play Brown on Saturday at 5 p.m. in Payne Whitney Gym.

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