This weekend could be a significant turning point for the Yale volleyball team.

After picking up three losses on the road to the Ivy League’s top three teams, the Bulldogs can move back into the top half of the league with wins against Harvard and Dartmouth.

Having played only two matches at home this season, it’s no wonder the Bulldogs (10-5, 2-3 Ivy) are glad to face the Crimson (4-12, 3-3) Friday and the Big Green (7-10, 1-5) Saturday at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.

The Bulldogs have put the toughest portion of their conference schedule behind them. After a four-game stint on the road at first the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton and then at Cornell and Columbia, the Bulldogs are in fifth place in the league, right on the heels of this Friday’s opponent Harvard.

Yale head coach Erin Appleman said she saw an advantage to getting the toughest matches out of the way early in the season.

“Now, it’s all in our hands,” she said.

With six of their remaining nine league matches at home, the Elis are confident they can climb a few rungs on the league standings.

“I expect [the team] to go undefeated at home,” outside hitter Jana Freeman ’05 said.

Despite Yale’s occasional scoring droughts, the Bulldog offense ranks number four in the league in hitting percentage and third in kills and assists. Setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 has run a well-balanced offense and is fourth in the Ivies with 11.31 assists per game. Freeman has been Becker’s top target, placing third in the league with 4.11 kills per game. Middle hitter Renee Lopes ’06 has helped take the pressure off Freeman with a .318 hitting percentage, good for fifth in the league. To help vary the attack, team captain Taryn Gallup ’04 has added an effective left-handed hitter to the right side.

“The more sets that other people get, the easier it is for me to hit,” Freeman said.

On defense, the Bulldogs rank in the league’s bottom half in team digs, blocks and opponent’s hitting percentage. Appleman said the team is trying to improve in those areas, but said part of the explanation is that Yale has already played the league’s top offenses.

Jessica Kronstadt ’04 has provided strong leadership and energy at the libero position, and the Eli defense has received a boost since Anja Perlebach ’07 returned to the starting lineup. Perlebach completed her return to full action from an early-season ankle injury last weekend, earning 27 total digs at Columbia and Cornell.

While Yale’s defense is below average on the statistics sheets, Freeman attributes these problems to weak serving.

“Our defense is pretty good, but we need to start serving tougher,” Freeman said. “If we can serve tough, they can’t pass as well, their sets become more predictable — and we can set up a stronger block.”

Yale’s defense will get a chance to test its meetle this weekend against Harvard. Crimson junior outside hitter Kaego Ogbechie, last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year, returned from a early-season injury and immediately made her presence felt against Princeton and Pennsylvania last weekend. The Cantabs played competitively against the league-leading pair, falling to each team in the fifth game.

“We definitely saw the most competitive teams [Pennsylvania and Cornell] in the league and will treat [Harvard and Dartmouth] as equals,” defensive specialist Terren O’Reilly ’05.

Appleman also recognized that her team needs to respect its second opponent this weekend. The Elis are clinging on to a narrow one-game edge over Dartmouth in the wins column.

“This weekend is extremely important,” Appleman said. “We have not played Harvard or Dartmouth yet — and we need to make a statement that this is the time we’re going to make a move [in the league standings].”

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”19109″ ]