Sometimes a team’s performance at the beginning of a match sets the tone for the rest of the contest, and sometimes it does not. For the volleyball team (11-6, 3-4 Ivy), the latter was the case Friday and Saturday against Harvard (6-12, 5-3) and Dartmouth (7-12, 1-6).
In the first match of the weekend at John J. Lee Amphitheater, the Bulldogs won their first game against the Crimson but dropped the next three games to lose 3-1 (24-30, 30-16, 30-27, 30-19).
The following afternoon, the Big Green surprised Yale with a comeback victory in game one, but the Elis finished strong for a 3-1 (24-30, 30-21, 30-27, 30-19) win.
On Friday, Yale had everything working in its favor early in the match against its Mass. rival. With 250 fans in attendance, the Bulldogs held Harvard to a .096 hitting percentage in the first game and forced the Crimson to commit eight errors in this time.
Harvard did not have junior outside hitter Kaego Ogbechie, last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year. The Bulldogs had prepared for Ogbechie, who played the previous weekend against University of Pennsylvania and Princeton after missing most of the season due to an early-season injury.
“We scouted them thinking Kaego Ogbechie was going to be playing,” outside hitter Christy Paluf ’06 said. “We should have been able to capitalize on [her absence].”
With Ogbechie looking on from the bench, Cantab hitters Nilly Scweitzer and Allison Bendush responded with hard-hit kills as the Crimson dominated game two. Yale finished the second game with a dismal .020 hitting percentage and nine errors.
The Bulldogs’ poor passing and inability to put shots away continued throughout the evening.
“Our serve-receive passing was not that great, [and] it is something we have taken for granted because it is usually solid,” Paluf said.
On defense, libero Jessica Kronstadt ’04 kept the Bulldogs in the match, diving to the floor numerous times for a team season-high 28 digs. Outside hitter Jana Freeman ’05 had a personal season-high with 23 digs. Although the Yale defense was determined to keep the ball in play, the offense just was not able to put shots away in the second half of the match.
“We have to be able to end long rallies and get the points,” Kronstadt said.
Despite going down 26-20 in the pivotal third game, the Elis put themselves in position for a comeback. The Bulldogs went on a 6-1 run to bring the score to 26-27, raising the chant of the crowd to the loudest it had been all night. But Freeman served the ball long and staunched Yale’s rising momentum.
In game four, the two teams jostled for a definitive lead. The Bulldogs thought they had finally turned the tide in their favor when Freeman rose above the net for a huge spike to tie the score at 15-15. But the Eli hopes were premature; it was the Crimson, not the Bulldogs, who took command after Freeman’s slam. With a 15-4 run, the Cantabs ended the match and crushed Yale’s hopes of moving into fourth place in the Ancient Eight.
Paluf said it was perhaps the most upset she has ever seen her teammates after a loss.
“We were prepared, ready and had a great crowd, [so] it was a hard loss,” Paluf said.
Nineteen hours later, the Elis seemed to have overcome their disappointment. Yale jumped out to a 14-7 lead in its first game against Dartmouth. But the Bulldogs fell into another unaggressive rut. The Big Green went on a 12-2 run and won the game with a 13-point turnaround.
The Bulldogs turned things around in game two with strong hitting, posting a .351 hitting percentage while holding Dartmouth to .085.
“Everyone seemed to be taking a hard swing at each ball and it worked,” Kronstadt said.
Freeman showed a tremendous improvement on offense. As Yale’s hardest hitter, Freeman’s hitting percentage rose drastically from .050 against Harvard to .409 hitting against the Big Green. The outside hitter also led Yale with 20 kills and 19 digs.
With a less-lopsided win in game three and an 11-point victory in game four, the Bulldogs pulled off a complete 180 from their Harvard match. The ebb and flow of the two matches looked almost like complete opposites.
Yale head coach Erin Appleman has always emphasized the need to focus on the immediate challenge, and the Bulldogs succeeded in achieving a dramatic reversal.
“They looked within each other and knew they were better than they were performing,” Appleman said after the Dartmouth match.
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