Nobody on the Yale volleyball team has played in a victory over Princeton or the University of Pennsylvania.
“That’s a big hump to overcome,” Yale assistant coach David Foster said.
This weekend is as good as any for Yale (11-6, 3-4 Ivy) to break that drought. The Elis play host at the John J. Lee Amphitheater to the Tigers (12-5, 5-1) on Friday and the Quakers (14-4, 7-0) on Saturday.
Last Friday, the Bulldogs had a chance to replace Harvard in the fourth spot in the Ancient Eight. But Yale came up short, falling 3-1 to the Cantabs at home. Now the Bulldogs have something to prove.
At the same time, Princeton and Penn are also playing under heavy pressure of their own as they duel for the league’s top spot. Last weekend both teams handed a loss to formerly top-ranked Cornell (15-3, 6-2). This allowed the Tigers to move into second place, while the Quakers extended their conference win streak to 18 games, to take sole possession of first place.
For the Bulldogs to play the spoilers against Princeton or Penn this weekend, Yale needs to correct many of the mistakes it committed the last time it faced the “killer P’s.”
Middle blocker Lauren Burke ’05 said the Bulldogs have spent time in practice reviewing where the top Tiger and Quaker hitters like to send their shots. The coaches especially reviewed Princeton outside hitter Lauren Grumet, second in the Ivy League in kills (4.19 per game) and cross-court spikes.
“We’re making sure we have a solid block that keys in on where she hits in order to set up the most effective defense,” Burke said.
In a 3-1 (30-23, 31-33, 30-21, 30-23) loss at Princeton on Oct. 11, the Elis had a tough time handling Princeton’s one-two punch. Although the Elis held Grumet to a .125 hitting percentage, they gave up 16 kills to last season’s first team All-Ivy outside hitter Kellie Cramm.
Instead of two talented hitters, Yale had to deal with five when it took on Pennsylvania on Oct. 10. Five Quakers put up more than 10 kills a piece, as Yale lost 3-0 (30-16, 30-26, 30-25).
“Penn and Princeton aren’t overpowering,” Foster said. “They’re very consistent and distribute the ball well.”
While the Tigers and Quakers can rely on several hitters to come up big in any competition, the Bulldogs typically receive consistent scoring from only one or two players throughout a match.
“We need to utilize all five of our hitters,” Foster said. “We can’t just rely on Jana [Freeman ’05] and Renee [Lopes ’06].”
Freeman entered last weekend third in the league with 4.11 kills per game, while Lopes was fifth in hitting percentage with a .318.
In order for the Bulldogs to win more than just one game this weekend, the Elis will have to eliminate their sporadic lapses. At Princeton, the Bulldogs came back to win game two, but dropped the third game by nine points. In its first game against Pennsylvania, the Eli offense was almost non-existent, posting just 16 points during the game.
“We were not mentally prepared for [the Quakers] playing in the Palestra,” Foster said, referring to Pennsylvania’s historic arena.
Yale’s seniors are glad to get a last shot at experiencing a win against each of these powerhouses at home. When the Bulldog faithful take their seats at the Lee Amphitheater this weekend, they may detect an extra glint of urgency in the eyes of the Eli seniors.
“I’m so excited,” captain Taryn Gallup ’04 said. “Not only is this my last chance to beat Penn and Princeton, but it’s also our last chance to play these teams at home.”
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