The winning streak may be over, but the future of Yale volleyball remains bright.
After defeating Dartmouth (10–12, 3–7 Ivy) 3–1 on Friday, the Elis (15–4, 9–1) fell in Ivy League competition for the first time since Nov. 11, 2011. In a dramatic five-set match, the Crimson (12–7, 7–3) prevailed over the Bulldogs 3–2, ending Yale’s record-making 23-match winning streak — an Ivy League record.
This weekend was perhaps Yale’s most competitive of the season so far. The Elis played in nine sets over the two days. The largest margin of victory in any set this weekend was the six points that separated Yale and Harvard in their tie-breaking fifth set. In that match, the first three sets all went past the 25th point.
“We knew going in that it was going to be a really tough weekend,” setter Kelly Johnson ’16 said. “We knew we were going to have to play very strong in both games.”
On Friday, the match against Dartmouth was competitive from the very first set. The Elis fell behind early 14–8, but rallied back to tie the game at 19-all. The teams traded punches down to the wire until captain Kendall Polan ’14 assisted on a pair of kills by Johnson to win the set 25–23. In the second set, despite drawing first blood, the Elis fell behind early again. This time, Dartmouth took advantage and won the set 25–22. Polan noted that the Elis have had slow starts to their most recent matches.
“We haven’t been coming out as strong as we would like in the past few games,” Polan said. “Dartmouth just came out really strong and played well.”
Yale only trailed for one point in the third set, however, and prevailed over Dartmouth 25–20. In the fourth set, the Big Green again held a sizable lead over the Elis. Down by five in the middle of the set, the Bulldogs went on a 7–2 run to equalize and build momentum. After middle blocker Maya Midzik ’16 gave the Elis the lead, they never relinquished it and won the final set 25–20.
Polan had an incredible 50 assists to go along with 14 digs. Johnson and Midzik tied for most kills on the team with 13 each during the match, while outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17 contributed 12. Libero Maddie Rudnick ’15 rounded things out with her team-leading 22 digs.
On Saturday, the Elis took on the archrival Crimson in a match that featured the top two teams in the conference.
In the first set, Harvard attacked Yale with 17 kills thanks to a strong 0.486 hitting percentage. Despite a strong offensive showing from the Crimson, the set was tied at 24-all after a service ace from Johnson. Harvard used a timeout to regroup and eventually took the set 26–24. The Elis fared better both defensively and offensively in the second set, outhitting the Crimson 18 kills to 17 and holding them to a manageable 0.265 hitting percentage. But after the Bulldogs redeemed themselves with a 28–26 win in the second set, Harvard answered back with 17 assists on 18 kills to take the third set 27–25. The Elis forced a fifth set by winning the fourth 25–23 behind Polan’s 14 assists and Johnson’s six kills.
The Elis entered the tiebreaker having played eight extremely competitive sets in two days, but according to Johnson, no level of fatigue is an excuse in high-level competition.
“At that point you’re really not thinking about how exhausted you are mentally and physically,” Johnson said. “You’re thinking about doing everything you can to win the match.”
The Crimson scored first, eventually securing a 5–3 lead over the Elis, but Steinberg and Midzik converted three assists by Polan to give the Elis a narrow 6–5 lead. The Crimson took the lead again behind three kills, but Polan again stepped up, first assisting on yet another Midzik kill and then delivering a clutch block to tie the match at eight. But from there, Harvard went on a 7–1 run to take the set and end Yale’s historic streak.
The Bulldogs did not go down without a fight: Polan outdid herself from the night before, recording a mind-blowing 60 assists, surpassing the 3,000 assist mark for her Yale career. Johnson produced a double-double with 19 kills on a stellar 0.486 hitting percentage to go along with 11 digs and three service aces. Midzik added a career-high 14 kills and Rudnick led the team with 12 digs.
The Elis have always been adamant about their indifference to winning streaks and records, but Midzik admitted it was a bit strange experiencing her first Ivy League loss. Nonetheless, she and other members of the team refused to blame the defeat on the Cambridge setting.
“I don’t think a gym can really change a game that much,” Midzik said. “Part of being on a team is having to produce both at home and away.”
The Elis have vowed to use this experience to make themselves better than ever before. Johnson said they are eager to work hard this week and get back on their home court when they play against Columbia.
“We’re going to come back with everything we’ve got,” Johnson said. “We’ve already talked about how hard we’re going to work this week to overcome the loss. We want to prove that we’re better than what we showed on Saturday night.”
The Elis will host Columbia at 7 p.m., Friday.