With less than an hour scheduled between the volleyball team’s first two matches at the Maine Invitational, head coach Erin Appleman expected a challenge in preparing for the team’s second match against the University of Connecticut. Little did she know just how great that challenge would be.

The Bulldogs’ first match would go five close games, and Yale would have only a half hour to get ready to face the Huskies.

Despite picking up its first loss in a 0-3 shutout to invitational champion Connecticut (7-5), the Yale volleyball team (5-1) took second place at the tournament in Orono, Maine, defeating host school Maine (6-7) 3-2 before losing to Connecticut on Friday. The Bulldogs finished the weekend with a 3-1 defeat of Denver (9-5) on Saturday.

To leave the tournament with two victories against three competitive teams who had more match experience this fall, Yale’s starters and bench players rose to a new level of play.

In the 3-2 (30-27, 27-30, 23-30, 30-28, 15-13) match against Maine, setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 and outside hitter Jana Freeman ’05 showed why they were named to the All-Tournament Team.

Becker put up season highs with 51 assists and 22 digs. With 129 assists for the weekend, the sophomore is 15 assists away from becoming Yale’s sixth all-time career assist leader. Trailing 2-1, Freeman and outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07 came up with several key kills to keep Yale in the match. Freeman leads the team with 100 kills this season, averaging 4.35 kills/game, while Farrell’s 13 kills against Maine were a career high in her second collegiate tournament.

“[Farrell] seems really relaxed on the courts for a freshman,” Freeman said. “She’s going to be great for our team.”

After coming back from 12-10 in the final game, several team members said they were physically ready to play Connecticut but the team came out mentally unprepared.

“[The problem against] UConn was more mental focus — definitely not physical,” outside hitter Christy Palluf ’06 said.

After losing the first two games by double digits (20-30, 14-30), the Bulldogs forced the third game past the 30-point mark (30-32). The final game was a better indication of the competitiveness the Bulldogs expect in their Nov. 5 rematch against the Huskies.

“I don’t think they’re a better team than us,” said Palluf, adding that the Bulldogs’ first loss has only made them more excited for the rematch at home.

When the Huskies come to the John J. Lee Amphitheater, Yale will have to do a better job containing Connecticut standouts Julie Erbez and Jamie Hadenfelt. Erbez, Connecticut’s senior setter, posted 34 assists, while junior outside hitter Hadenfelt had 21 kills en route to being named tournament MVP.

It appeared as if the Bulldogs’ woes would continue against an athletic Denver team who entered the weekend with an 8-3 record. After dropping the first game by 16 points, the Bulldogs won the next three by a narrow total of 12 points.

“We might have been a little timid at first,” Freeman said. “We couldn’t have won without everyone on the team stepping up their games.”

Appleman said that Kelly Cooper ’06 and Terren O’Reilly ’06 made some key contributions to change the momentum of the match. Palluf, who has filled in as a starting outside hitter since an ankle injury to Anja Perlebach ’07 last weekend, came up with three crucial kills to break a 27-27 tie in the pivotal second game. Finishing the match with a solid 15 kills and 10 digs, Palluf earned praise from her teammates for her consistent play throughout the weekend

“Christy Palluf came in and did what needed to be done,” Appleman said.

With so many different players stepping up for Yale throughout the invitational, Appleman said she isn’t sure who will make up the starting line-up for the Bulldogs’ at the Wagner Tournament next weekend.

“I don’t know who I’m playing on Monday at practice, which is a great problem to have,” she said. “So many people coming off the bench are doing a solid job.”

Although they finished second in the tournament, Yale feels that its overall performance at the Maine Invitational was a good indication of how it will have to play to succeed in the Ivy League this fall.

“We know going into the Ivies that we’ll be ready,” Palluf said. “We can’t take any game for granted — but we should have a good shot at being able to dominate.”