“Man, it wasn’t like this last year.”

One fan’s musing during the volleyball team’s Friday night sweep of Brown, 3-0, captures not just the Elis’ most recent win, but their 2005 season in general.

In last year’s Ivy League opener Yale (10-1, 1-0 Ivy) fell to Brown (3-9, 0-1), 3-2, in Providence, R.I. This time around, the Bears faced a new opponent — the defending conference champions, an NCAA Tournament team, and a team that had gone unbeaten in its last seven games. The strides the Elis have made in the past year were never more apparent than they were Friday night.

“This is a huge first step compared to last year’s game,” middle blocker Renee Lopes ’06 said. “We’re making our presence known, and I think we’re going to do that more and more throughout the season.”

Friday night’s match was closer than the final score shows. Yale trailed Brown at the beginning of all three sets, and it seemed as though luck was the Elis’ most valuable player against the Bears. The Bulldogs took their first two games off Brown attack errors, and in the home stretch of the third set, the Elis nearly relinquished the lead before a kill by Shannon Farrell ’07 ended the match.

The Elis, normally aggressive hitters, struggled this weekend to maintain the intensity of play they exhibited in earlier games.

“We kind of feel like for the first time, we played afraid,” outside hitter Nicole Perkins ’08 said. “In other games, we didn’t let points get us down, we didn’t let the other team affect us. Maybe because it was the first Ivy League game or because there was a large crowd, but there were a lot of factors that made it a more stressful game.”

The crowd could easily have been a major influence in Friday night’s game. 473 fans attended the match, up from just 200 in last year’s first home Ivy League game, a 3-1 win over Penn. And it’s no longer just other varsity athletes who come to support the Elis. Over the past year, the Bulldogs have begun to draw their fans from the student body and local community.

“It’s just really exciting for me because I feel like our fan base has really grown since I’ve been here,” Lopes said. “There was a point [Friday night] when I couldn’t stop smiling whenever I looked at the stands because there were so many people here.”

Getting the win against Brown was just a starting point for the Bulldogs, who knew better things could be expected from their team.

Though setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 had 39 assists on the night and outside hitter Farrell tallied 12 kills and 21 digs to record her sixth double-double of the season, the Elis’ attack looked weak.

“We will need to really take risks and compete this year,” middle blocker Morgan Hume ’08 said. “We let Brown compete with us rather than dominating at the net.”

The Elis rounded out their weekend with another 3-0 win, this time over Providence (2-17) on Saturday afternoon. The Friars proved to be an easy win for the Bulldogs, but the Elis are looking to capitalize on every playing opportunity they get as their Ivy League season finally gets underway.

“Playing a game like Providence was a chance to work on some of the things from last night,” Perkins said. “Even though they weren’t that good, it’s better to play another game than to take a day off.”