Although the women’s volleyball team will be making their debut appearance in the NCAA Tournament tonight, the Bulldogs will not be venturing into entirely unknown territory,

Yale (17-7, 10-4 Ivy) hosts American East champion Albany (27-6) at 7:30 in the friendly confines of the John J. Lee Amphitheater. The Elis, who have only dropped one match this season on their home floor, will certainly benefit from the support of their dedicated fan base.

“The fans this year have been incredible,” setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 said. “We’ve had some really close games where the energy from the stands has pushed us to put a little more energy into the next point. It makes such a big difference playing in front of people who are rooting for you because it feels like they are fighting right alongside with you.”

Prior to Yale’s contest with Albany, No. 4 seed Minnesota and Long Island will face off in another first round match at 5:30 p.m. The winners of both matches will advance to the second round tomorrow evening at 7:00.

The Bulldogs, who ride a nine-game winning streak into tonight’s match, have not faced a nationally ranked team since they lost 3-0 to Penn State on Sept. 19.

The Elis’ match with the Great Danes promises to be a battle, as Albany boasts a number of strong players. Outside hitters Ashley Hunter and Shelby Goldman lead Albany with 3.72 and 4.19 kills per game, respectively, and setter Blair Buchanan has racked up 1397 assists in 2004. In addition, the Bulldogs will find a major obstacle at the net, as Great Dane middle blockers Ashley Green and Susan Speer have combined for 178 blocks this season.

The Great Danes are in a similar spot as the Bulldogs. Like Yale, Albany, which won its first conference title in school history this season, has never played in a NCAA tournament match before.

The tough competition does not seem to be fazing the Elis, despite their previous record against some top teams.

“It doesn’t matter who we play,” libero Anja Perlebach ’07 said. “We are going to give them hell and have a lot of fun doing it. We don’t expect to win or lose. We just expect to bring our best game and leave everything on the floor.”

To come out on top, the Bulldogs will need more than just a strong attitude. Key players will have to continue to play well, including offensive threat and captain Jana Freeman ’05 and outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07. Freeman and Farrell led the Bulldogs this season in kills with 1,080 and 1,079 kills, respectively, and Farrell ranked second in digs with 357. Perlebach, who posted some incredible defensive performances this season, will be a big factor in combating the Great Dane offense.

“We are so thrilled to be in the NCAA tournament,” Becker, a first team All-Ivy selection, said. “We worked so hard to get where we are and I think going in, we just want to go out and prove that we deserve to be competing against the top teams in the nation.”

Farrell agreed with Perlebach and Becker that regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game, the Bulldogs are happy to have made it this far.

“I think we were the only people that actually thought we could accomplish what we have,” Farrell said. “Our goal is just to compete at our highest level and enjoy ourselves. We’ve been lucky to have our season extended so much, and I think everyone is looking forward to taking advantage of that and playing good volleyball together.”

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