The Yale volleyball team made history yet again over the weekend, solidifying its status in Ivy League lore by clinching its fourth straight conference title.
The Elis (17—4, 11—1 Ivy) defeated Columbia and Cornell in straight sets to become the first team since 1987 — and only the second team in Ivy League history — to win a fourth consecutive volleyball championship.
On Friday, the Elis took on Columbia (5—16, 3—9). Heading into their first match since losing at Harvard two weeks ago, the Elis knew that they had to play aggressively from the beginning.
“We practiced really hard this past week because we didn’t want to be in the same situation we were in [against Harvard],” captain Kendall Polan ’14 said. “We knew we had to come out strong against Columbia to win the match.”
The Bulldogs built a small lead early in the match and extended it with strong offensive play to win the set 25–19. Outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17 and setter Kelly Johnson ’16 combined for 11 kills in the set, while Polan had 14 assists. In the second set, the Elis proved even more dominant, winning the set 25–14 behind an impressive 16 kills on a 0.467 hitting percentage.
Yale withstood a final effort from Columbia in the third set to win 25–20 and complete the sweep.
Steinberg led the match with 15 kills on a stellar 0.542 kill percentage. Johnson was second in kills with 14, in addition to her four assists, seven digs and two blocks. Polan continued to rack up assists, recording 40 against Columbia after earning 110 combined in two matches last weekend.
On Saturday, the Elis had a chance to clinch the title against the Big Red (7-15, 3-9) in their last home game of the season. As part of Senior Night, the team honored seniors Polan, McHaney Carter ’14 and Erica Reetz ’14 before the match.
Despite the fanfare and sentimentality, Johnson said the Bulldogs remained focused on the task at hand.
“It made it a little more emotional just because it was our seniors’ last night home,” she said. “But I think we still played with the same level of intensity and emotion we usually do. It was great that we got to honor them and win Ivies.”
The Elis found themselves a little out of rhythm early due to the pregame festivities, according to Polan, and trailed Cornell by a narrow margin midway through the first set. But Yale forced Cornell into six errors down the stretch and emerged victorious, 25–21.
In the remaining two sets, the Elis recorded a combined 31 kills on a strong 0.303 hitting percentage. The Bulldogs never trailed and won both sets by double-digit margins en route to securing the championship.
In the final home game of her college career, Polan recorded 33 assists, two kills, two service aces and five digs. The team got major contributions from the non-seniors, including outside hitter Mollie Rogers ’15, who registered a double-double with 16 kills and 11 digs. Libero Maddie Rudnick ’15 led the match with 20 digs.
Polan recognized that even without her, Carter and Reetz, the team will be in good hands in the coming years.
“There are so many great players on this team that it doesn’t really matter who’s on the court,” Polan said. “I have total confidence in this team next year. I’m excited to see what they’ll do but first we have some stuff to get done this year.”
Even with Ivy League title clinched, the Bulldogs know they still have a job to do, Johnson said. She said that the team will look to finish strong at Princeton and Penn next week before making a run in the NCAA tournament.
The Elis will travel to Princeton, N.J. on Friday to take on the Tigers before heading to Philadelphia on Saturday to play the Quakers.