The members of the women’s volleyball team know that in order to be the best, they must play against the best.

They got their chance this past weekend in University Park, Penn.

There, the Bulldogs (4-2, 0-0 Ivy) literally ventured into the lions’ den to take on the No. 1 Nittany Lions of Penn State (12-0) in the Penn State Classic, which also featured New Hampshire (3-11) and Saint Louis (8-4).

It was the first time in Yale volleyball history that the team has taken on the top-ranked team in the nation.

In front of a crowd of 3,000 screaming fans, the Nittany Lions proved too strong an opponent, dispatching the Bulldogs, 3-0.

“Although they were taller than us at every position, we got a little tight and didn’t get to play Yale volleyball,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “But they certainly are a great team.”

The battle between Penn State and Yale was fought at the net. The Bulldogs simply could not stop the constant attacks from the Nittany Lions. The Lions recorded 38 total kills against the Bulldogs, with All-American outside hitter Megan Hodge contributing 12.

On the other side of the net, the Elis simply could not defend against the power of the defending national champions. Yale recorded only one block in its first game, compared to the Lions’ 15 .

“We didn’t serve as well as we should have,” captain and outside hitter Ally Mendenhall ’09 said. “We gave them too many easy balls.”

In contrast, the Nittany Lions recorded 10 aces and only five errors on service, making it difficult for the Bulldogs to find a rhythm on offense and fight back.

“Looking back, we didn’t play as well as we could have,” Mendenhall said. “We came out a little timid.”

Yale found an equally tough opponent in Saint Louis for its second match. The unranked Billikens recently upset No. 3 Stanford, with three players recording double-doubles, and once again unleashed a relentless offense in their 3-0 win against the Bulldogs.

The Elis once again fell to their opponent at the net. The Billikens’ offense finished with 43 kills. Yale had no answer and recorded just three blocks.

“Our second loss was a wake-up call,” Mendenhall said. “But we knew we could bounce back and end on a win.”

The Bulldogs were up to the challenge and answered their captain’s call.

After suffering losses to No.1 Penn State and Saint Louis, the Bulldogs finished their tournament with a win over New Hampshire, 3-0. In each of the six matches they have played this season, Yale has played only three games, falling on either the right or wrong side of 3-0 scores.

Outside hitters Alexis Crusey ’10 and Cat Dailey ’10 had 12 and 10 kills, respectively, asserting their presence against the Wildcats and leading the Bulldogs to victory.

“That was a match that we knew we had to win,” Dailey said. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get better, and it was nice to go out on a win.”

But the Elis are not concerned with the tallies in the win and loss columns of the preseason.

“I would hardly consider this past weekend a failure,” Mendenhall said. “We take something away from each experience. All we wanted was to say that we got better, and we definitely did.”