The Yale women’s volleyball team is riding a 14–1 record over its last 15 games into its match against Utah on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs (20–4, 13–1 Ivy) earned an automatic bid to the tournament as the champions of the Ivy League and will play the Utes (20–12, 9–11 Pac-12) at the home court of No. 2 Penn State.
In the beginning of the 2011 season, Yale fell to Utah in four sets on Yale’s home court. Outside hitter Erica Reetz ’14 said that the upperclassmen’s past experience against Utah will benefit the team.
“They’re a team that we have held up in our minds,” Reetz said. “We know what we’re going up against. We know that we can win.”
Although Yale succumbed to Utah two years ago, the Bulldogs have made the tournament for three consecutive years, while the Utes have not done so since 2008. In that year, they made the Sweet 16.
The Utes’ tough schedule has factored into their inability to make the postseason. They managed a 20–12 record this season despite playing in a conference with three ranked teams and nine teams in the tournament.
Among Yale’s four-team cluster for the first two rounds, Utah is ranked second and Yale is ranked third. Penn State will play LIU Brooklyn, seeded fourth, just after the Bulldogs’ match.
“I’m happy not to be a fourth [seed],” Coach Erin Appleman said. “I think a third seed at the first and second rounds gives us an opportunity.”
If the Bulldogs win, they will face the winner of the Penn State–LIU Brooklyn match the next day.
In September, Penn State served Yale one of its four losses in a 3–0 sweep. The Bulldogs kept pace in the first two sets but scored only six points in the final set.
“We’re not looking past Utah at all,” Appleman said. “[Utah is] our next opponent. It’s what we’ve done all year. If we get fortunate enough to make some magic happen and beat Utah, then we’ll go out and try to serve as tough as we can.”
The Bulldogs will need to control their spikes against the Utes, who are ninth in the NCAA with 2.89 blocks per set this year. Almost half of those have come from middle blocker Erin Redd-Brandon, who was just named an All-Pac-12 honorable mention for the second straight season.
Yale may be up for the challenge, as much of the Bulldogs’ success this season has resulted from their ability to beat the block. They are 30th in the country with 14.05 kills per set, while Utah has managed 13.57.
Right setter Shelby Dalton and outside hitter Chelsey Schofield will lead the Utes on the attacking side. They are best on the team in kills with 2.68 and 2.42 kills per set, respectively.
Appleman has experience coaching in University Park, both for the Bulldogs in the Penn State Tournament early this season, and for the Nittany Lions themselves as an assistant coach for eight years until 2001.
She said that for her, the beginning of the tournament will be like a homecoming.
“We’ve been there before; we know what the gym is like, we know what the crowd is like,” Appleman said. “We’re going to be more like a home team there than anywhere else.”
The match will begin at 5:00 p.m. in University Park on Dec. 6.