With three matches to go, the Yale volleyball team still has something to play for in its last home weekend. The Elis (14-8, 6-5 Ivy) are in fifth place in the Ivy League but can still move into fourth or even third place by winning the rest of their matches.
Only a half game behind Harvard (8-14, 7-5) and two-and-a-half games behind third place Cornell (19-4, 9-3), the Bulldogs can climb the standings with wins Friday night against the Big Red and Saturday afternoon against Columbia (0-19, 0-11).
To move into third, the Big Red has to lose its last two matches, and the Bulldogs hope they can give Cornell the first of those two losses on Friday at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
“We’re still playing to move up in the Ivy League,” setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 said. “It’s really up in the air these last few games.”
In their last match against Cornell, the Elis forced the match to go five games despite a slow start and sloppy play.
Yale head coach Erin Appleman said the Bulldogs will be less likely to make the same mistakes in the rematch.
“Some of the areas that needed work I think we’ve improved on,” Appleman said. “Our ball control has improved tremendously, and we’re better defensively.”
The Eli defense will need to make the improvements that Appleman described if they are to have chance of containing Cornell outside hitter Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week for the sixth time this season after the Big Red handed Pennsylvania (17-6, 10-1) its first loss of the season last weekend.
“We definitely have to alternate our defense to move our players where [Bishop] tends to hit,” defensive specialist Terren O’Reilly ’06.
Before last weekend’s matches, Yale’s top outside hitter Jana Freeman ’05 and Bishop shared the top two spots in the Ivy League with averages of 4.32 kills per game each. In their last meeting on Oct. 18 at Cornell, Freeman and Bishop each had 22 kills, but Cornell outplayed Yale as a team.
The Big Red defense had 18.5 blocks — 15.5 more than Yale — and held the Bulldogs to a .192 hitting percentage.
A stronger start and varied attack will be key for the Bulldogs to overcome the Big Red presence at the net.
“Blocking is a mental thing,” Becker said. “As long as we’re playing well and with consistency, good things will happen.”
Since the midseason mark, the Bulldogs have confused opposing defenses by throwing them a new look. Earlier this season, Becker primarily fed middle hitter Renee Lopes ’06 for slide kills which Lopes hit on the run at the front corners of the net. Now, Lopes makes a number of her hits by jumping straight up at the center of the Bulldogs’ side of the court.
“A lot of the blockers will key in on Renee, so by mixing things up, especially at the end of the season, it’s a good thing [to give Renee different sets],” Becker said.
Despite a recent knee injury, Becker said she will still play in both matches this weekend. The team’s only setter had to pull out of the Dartmouth match last Friday, but returned the next day to play all four games against Harvard. A subsequent MRI showed a tear in the cartilage of her knee, but she was told she could finish out the season.
Another 3-0 shutout of the last-place Lions would help limit the strain on Becker’s knee. Columbia is winless this season but dropped three competitive games to Yale on Oct 17. Last weekend, the Lions nearly beat Princeton (8-2, 15-6).
“The [Columbia] team is improving [and] went five games against Princeton, the second place team, this weekend,” Appleman said. “I look at it as this is an opponent on the rise and in need of a win.”
Some would say the same about Yale.