Entering the American Invitational in Washington, D.C., as heavy underdogs to daunting opponents this past weekend, the volleyball team knew it would have its work cut out for it.

As it turned out, the competition lived up to the hype. Yale opened the tournament by losing to the host American University team Friday night, 3-0 (30-19, 30-22, 30-24), and then was overmatched Sunday afternoon by No. 9 Penn State, 3-0 (30-15, 30-16, 30-13).

Despite these setbacks, though, the Elis (2-4 overall) were impressed with their performance and can take a lot of positives away from the two defeats, Yale head coach Peg Scofield said.

“I’m very pleased with the way we competed,” Scofield said. “American was bigger, stronger and faster, and we held our own. With Penn State, it’s tough to judge because they’re so much better — even bigger, stronger and faster.”

Defensive specialist Jessica Kronstadt ’04 said the Bulldogs improved substantially by the end of the tournament and should be better off when Ivy League play commences in two weeks.

“That was the best competition we’ve seen thus far, and that kind of fast-paced game will help us later on,” Kronstadt said.

In the first game of the American match, Taryn Gallup ’04 and Dana Loberg ’03 led the team with 10 kills apiece, while Kelly McAlearney ’05 added eight kills and three aces. Joey Lee ’03 contributed 12 digs for the Bulldogs.

In the second game, Gallup again tied for the team lead in kills, this time matching the six sent down by Renne Lopes ’06. Kronstadt had 10 digs while Gallup showed her versatility by adding five digs of her own.

Compiling these stats was a feat in and of itself, as the strength of the opposing defenses held the Bulldogs to hitting percentages of .116 and .044 in the two games.

“It’s very difficult to put any balls down on a team like Penn State,” Scofield said. “The hitting percentage didn’t show how well we competed. It’s one thing to get the hit past a block, and another to get it past the rest of the team — sometimes we could do the first, but it was hard to do both consistently.”

Gallup’s performance earned her a spot on the All-Tournament Team. Scofield said that Gallup and rookie Jacqueline Becker ’06, who had 48 assists in the two matches and was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week for her performance in the Yale Invitational last weekend, were the “talk of the team” among opposing coaches.

“Taryn is looking great — very powerful, poised and confident,” Scofield said.

The Bulldogs now turn their focus to the Central Connecticut Invitational this weekend where they will face Stony Brook University Friday night, followed by Rider University and the host school Saturday afternoon.

Now that the team has played two tournaments and has on-court experience, the focus in practice is shifting from generalities to specifics, Scofield said.

“We generally have our positions and offensive game down,” Scofield said. “Now we have to be very specific about learning how to defend certain attacks, and we have to grow in certain areas. Our block can improve, and even though our transition is much improved, we still can work on that.”

The team has shown flashes of brilliance early in the season, but most of the individual flurries have not been sustained. Achieving this level of consistency is essential to victory as the season progresses.

“We need to focus on everyone playing well together,” Kronstadt said. “Everybody had a standout game or moment in the tournament, but we need to put those together.”

With only one weekend remaining before the Ivy League season begins with a trip to defending champion Brown University, the Bulldogs are hoping that consistency arrives in the immediate future. Having now caught up to speed with teams that started the season weeks before them and having played against some of the country’s strongest competition, the team now knows what to expect and should be ready to put its experience into play.

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