When it comes to women’s volleyball, California, with beach volleyball courts speckled up and down the Pacific coastline and year-round sun, has long been a formidable locale.
Even in Connecticut, California players dominate the collegiate volleyball scene. One-third of Yale’s team, including the Elis’ top two hitters, Alexis Crusey ’10 and Shannon Farrell ’07, hail from the Sunshine State. This weekend’s trip to California for the Asics Invitational gave Yale (3-3) a chance to practice against Montreal, Pacific and No. 10 California. Though the results may not look spectacular on paper — the Bulldogs went 0-3 versus their weekend foes — the Elis looked strong against the nation’s elite.
“In facing incredible competition this weekend, we’ve seen a whole new level of volleyball,” captain and libero Anja Perlebach ’07 said. “We’ve also seen that we can play at that level. We’ve raised our level of play because our competitors were at such a high level. Now that we know we can do that, we need to do it against Ivy League competitors.”
The most recent of the Elis’ matchups was a Saturday night game against California (11-0). The Bears came out strong in the first game, overpowering the Bulldogs, 30-20, and continued to control the pace for the duration of the set. The Bulldogs’ defense, which had just 34 digs as a team, was no match for Cal’s powerful hitters. Angie Pressey had 19 kills and Hana Cutura added 16 of her own as the Bears recorded a .430 hitting percentage during the matchup.
“I think that facing hitters like Cal and Pacific have is great experience for our defense because chances are, we’re not going to see anyone for the rest of our season who hits the ball as well as they do,” Perlebach said. “If we get a couple digs on those guys, it gives us more confidence heading in against hitters who aren’t on top-ten teams.”
While California’s hitters excelled, the Elis’ struggled. Crusey, who collected a match-high 23 kills the night before against Pacific, had five errors to go with just seven kills against the Bears. The Bulldogs’ most prolific hitter Saturday night was Farrell who racked up 10 kills against a Cal defense that picked up 46 team digs and nine total blocks on the night.
“The teams we played this weekend first of all had a huge block,” outside hitter Kali Nelson ’08 said. “We really just had to play smart against them, instead of just swinging.”
Earlier that weekend, the Bulldogs took on Montreal (2-9) in an exhibition, the first and only foreign opponent Yale will face this season. The Elis were out-hit (70 Montreal kills, 53 Yale kills) and out-defended (77 Montreal digs, 58 Yale digs), but there were glimmers of glory for the Bulldogs. Outside hitter Julia Mailander ’10 showed impressive court presence for a freshman, leading the Elis in kills (11) and adding an impressive defensive performance (nine digs).
The Bulldogs powered through the first game, 30-23, but the Elis faltered in game two, 30-25, and were demolished, 30-14, in game three. The Bulldogs hit .053 percent during the third game and committed eight errors to Montreal’s two. Though the Elis improved somewhat after that crushing blow, they could not recover from the 2-1 deficit and fell in four games.
Saturday night, after facing the Carabins that afternoon, the Bulldogs took on tournament host Pacific. The Elis battled through a tight first game, knotting the score 17 times before the Tigers closed out the match, 30-27. Crusey had her best game of the tournament, hitting with a .452 percentage and contributing 13 digs, earning All-Tournament Team honors. Rounding out the team’s stellar defensive effort was Perlebach with 20 digs and Farrell with 14.
“Alexis brings a lot of power on the outside,” Farrell said. “Against Pacific, they just didn’t know how to stop her and I’m just happy to see her come out the way she did. She also gives us the offensive option in the back row and really good defense as well.”
But even Crusey’s dynamic hitting was not enough to penetrate the talented Pacific back row. Libero Julie Magud picked up 35 digs for the Tigers and two other players posted double-digit marks in the same category. The Tigers’ eight blocks, compared to the Bulldogs’ five, gave them an additional defensive edge.
The Bulldogs will return to the comforts of John J. Lee Amphitheater this weekend when they host the Yale Classic. The Elis, who have been playing together for just three weeks, will continue to work on their team chemistry and communication this week in anticipation of their upcoming tournament.
“Playing at home is one of the biggest highs in volleyball,” Perlebach said. “I think everyone’s looking forward to being back in our gym with our fans.”