While there are three solid classes to fill out the volleyball team for years to come, the Eli seniors showed fans at John J. Lee Amphitheater this weekend exactly what they’ll be missing next year.
In the final home game of their careers, setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 and middle blocker Renee Lopes ’06 led the Bulldogs (18-3, 9-2 Ivy) to a 3-1 victory over Princeton (14-8, 5-6 Ivy) Friday night and a sweep of Penn (8-14, 5-6) Saturday afternoon. Becker’s 96 assists and Lopes’ .547 hitting percentage over the seven games kept the Elis firmly ensconced in second place in the Ivy League, two games behind Cornell and two up on Brown.
“It was really weird to have played in the last home match of the season,” outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07 said. “The seniors have given a lot to this team and this program, and it is going to be a strange and sad thing playing without them in our home gym next year.”
The weekend started off shakily for the Elis, who dropped the first set of Friday’s match to the Tigers. Yale was ahead 14-10 early in the game, but Princeton took the next five points, putting them ahead 15-14 and forcing a Yale timeout. The Elis tallied the next two points after the break, but Princeton outside hitter Lindsey Ensign responded with three consecutive kills to put the Tigers ahead for the rest of the set. All-Ivy hitter Lauren Grumet knocked down seven of her match-high 19 kills during the first set, boosting the Tigers to an eventual 30-24 win.
“I think we might have come out a little too overconfident against Princeton on Friday,” Becker said. “They didn’t play nearly to their potential last time we played them, so I don’t think we gave them the respect they deserve during the first game. They are a great defensive team, which can really frustrate a team, but I feel like during the second game we were able to settle down, give them the respect they deserve, and start playing to our potential.”
The second game was a success for the Yale defense. Libero Anja Perlebach ’07 picked up seven of her 28 digs during the set, and the Elis held the Tigers to a .000 hitting percentage. The entire match showcased the Bulldogs’ defensive talent, with four players — Perlebach, Becker, Farrell and defensive specialist Maribeth Martens ’08 — each reaching the double-digit mark in digs. The Elis also collected 13.5 team blocks, paced by middle blocker Kristen Wilk ’09 with nine.
“After the first game, we did really well in blocking and defense,” Farrell said. “We definitely did not play our best in all aspects but it was good to see some other aspects improving.”
Once the Eli attack found ways to cope with the presence of Princeton libero Jenny McReynolds, who leads the conference in digs per game and had a match-high 29 on the night, there was no stopping the Bulldogs. Consecutive kills by Wilk earned the Elis a 32-30 victory in the third game, and a kill from outside hitter Nicole Perkins ’08 ended the final game at 30-21.
A relatively weak Penn squad did not present much of a challenge for the Elis, who were energized by pre-game Senior Day recognition for their last home match of the season. Lopes’ .579 hitting percentage and Farrell’s 17 kills and 11 digs helped the Elis cruise to three easy victories: 30-24, 30-11 and 30-26.
“Playing our last home match ever, we really played with the passion and heart I think we were missing here and there during the season,” Becker said. “We proved to ourselves that we deserve to be at the top of the Ivy League and have not even reached our potential yet.”
Though it was expected that seniors would be emotional after playing their last home match ever, the underclassmen on the volleyball team were affected as well. Saturday’s recognition of everything that Lopes and Becker, along with captain Christy Paluf ’06, libero Anne Foster-Keddie ’06 and middle blocker Adele Sweetnam ’06, have accomplished left a lasting impact on the rest of the team.
“Saturday night was definitely very emotional,” middle blocker Allison Kaptur ’09 said. “It was powerful to see how much this program means to the seniors. It’s hard for me to picture Yale volleyball without them.”