The Yale volleyball team showed improvement from last year’s season on the court, but a win at Brown Wednesday night established a more tangible improvement for the Bulldogs in the 2003 Ivy League standings.

By beating Brown in its final game, 3-1 (30-20, 30-28, 23-30, 30-19), Yale (16-9, 8-6 Ivy) finished with a conference record one game above its 7-7 Ivy finish in 2002 and passed Harvard to finish fourth place in the Ivy League.

The Bulldogs came out strong in the first two games at the Pizzitola Center in Providence, R.I., but they dropped the third game and showed signs of the type of mid-match lapse that has plagued them throughout the season. But instead of a meltdown, the Elis came out smoking in game four. The Bulldogs had a .361 hitting percentage in the final game, while holding the Bears to a disastrous -.022.

“We were just ready to get it done,” outside hitter Jana Freeman ’05 said. “We were playing for fourth [place] and didn’t want to share it with Harvard.”

Midway through the season, a fourth place finish may not have seemed so probable.

After winning seven of its first nine games and achieving its best preseason start in 11 years, the Bulldogs were confident they could compete for an Ivy League title under first-year head coach Erin Appleman. But playing only two home game in the first six weeks of its regular schedule and facing the Ancient Eight’s three top teams on the road in back-to-back weekends, the Bulldogs quickly fell into the bottom half of the league’s standings.

The Elis ended the season by winning four of their last five conference games to squeeze past a talented Cantab squad.

“Winning at the end of the year is important,” Appleman said Tuesday before the Brown match. “It signifies that you haven’t given up.”

Two huge wins in the second half of the season sparked Yale’s comeback finish. On Oct. 31, the Elis nabbed their first victory over Princeton since Sept. 1997 and a comeback victory at Harvard on Nov. 8 proved crucial to helping the Bulldogs clinch the fourth place finish.

“These are [the type of wins] that can turn around a program,” Appleman said.

Appleman said Yale is not yet on the same level as the University of Pennsylvania (20-6, 13-1), who won the Ivy League title for the third year in a row, but that the team could rise to championship level in a year or two.

Libero Jessica Kronstadt ’04 said she agrees with Appleman.

“I’m excited for Erin [Appleman] to continue to develop this team into an Ivy League championship team, and I think she’ll do it,” Kronstadt said. “[Yale] can only improve.”

Kronstadt and 2003 captain Taryn Gallup ’04 are the only two graduating players, but their contributions will still be missed.

“Jessica [Kronstadt] and Taryn [Gallup] added a lot to the team,” Appleman said. “Both were starters so it’s not just losing two seniors.”

Among the 11 returners to the team is the dynamic duo of Freeman and setter Jacqueline Becker ’06.

As the team’s only setter this season, the 2002 Ivy League Rookie of the Year showed she was ready to lead the Bulldog offense as a sophomore. Becker’s consistency, averaging over 11 assists per game, helped the Bulldog hitters succeed.

After missing several matches due to injury in 2002, Freeman showed her full potential in her junior season. Averaging over 4.3 kills per game, Freeman was in the league’s top three in kills per game throughout the season.

“[Jana] knew she was going to be our go-to girl,” Kronstadt said. “Not only did she accept [that role], but she played every game with an intensity that everyone needs to match.”

Freeman said the fresh start with a new head coach was a key factor to her successful season.

“[Coach Appleman] is a great competitor,” Freeman said. “She always helps us [to have] the drive to compete, win and get better.”

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”18755″ ]