The Bulldogs are back on top.
After a hard-fought 3–1 win over Princeton on Friday night, the volleyball team (11–5, 7–0 Ivy) gained sole possession of first place in the Ivy League for the first time since the end of the 2011 season, when the Bulldogs won the conference title. The Elis followed up Friday’s effort with a 3–0 sweep of Penn on Saturday to remain the league’s only undefeated squad halfway through the Ivy season.
“It was such a great weekend,” setter Kelly Johnson ’16 said. “We prepared so much and just to know that it’s behind us and we can focus on the next half of the Ivy schedule is a great feeling.”
A total of 542 excited fans showed up for Friday night’s showdown with Princeton (9–8, 6–1 Ivy), the best attended match since the season opener against Texas A&M on Aug. 31.
But the Elis did not give the Yale faithful much to cheer about in the opening set. They jumped out to quick 3–0 and 8–4 leads but then committed a series of errors to spoil the fast start. With the Bulldogs leading 9–5, Princeton went on an 11–2 run fueled by seven Yale errors and took a 16–11 lead. Although the Elis managed to pull within 23–22 toward the end of the set, the Tigers took a 25–22 win and a 1–0 lead in the match.
“I don’t think we were playing Yale volleyball,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “I thought we were a little bit nervous and a little bit tight.”
In a crucial second set for the Bulldogs, it looked like Yale might again fall just short of victory when a Chelsea Parker service ace gave Princeton a 21–19 lead. But Johnson responded for the Bulldogs by slamming three kills and leading a 6–1 run to give Yale the victory 25–22 victory.
That outburst was part of another stellar performance for Johnson. Coming off her second Ivy League Rookie of the Week award, Johnson notched a team-high 19 kills on .421 hitting to go along with 18 assists and 11 digs for her third triple-double of the season.
“She’s definitely established herself as an offensive threat,” Appleman said. “She seems to be playing with a lot more confidence out there right now.”
After a 25–19 third-set win gave Yale a 2–1 lead, the drama picked back up in the fourth game. The two sides were again neck-and-neck, tying the set at both 18 and 20 points. But when it counted most, outside hitter Erica Reetz ’14 went head-to-head with Princeton’s star outside hitter Lydia Rudnick to give Yale the victory. With the score tied at 21, Reetz hit two kills while Rudnick committed two attack errors to launch the Bulldogs to a 25–22 triumph in the fourth set and a 3–1 victory overall.
“[The match] showed our resiliency,” Johnson said. “It also showed our confidence, that we knew we could come back and beat them. We worked so hard and really grew as a team.”
The Elis continued to build momentum with a 3–0 sweep of Penn on Saturday. The Quakers’ (9–9, 4–3 Ivy) stout defense, which leads the nation in digs per set, was neutralized by the versatile Yale offense. Five players recorded at least six kills, topped by 10 from Reetz. Libero Maddie Rudnick ’15 even got in on the action with her first kill of the season and just the fourth of her career overall.
“To be honest, I don’t even remember hitting [a kill],” Rudnick said. “It must have been a pass over the net or something. But just the fact of contributing to the team in any way possible is important to me.”
The first set provided the most stressful moments of the match for Yale. The opening game went down to the wire but with the score tied at 24, Yale managed to score two straight for the 26–24 victory. In the second and third sets, the Elis prevailed with solid 25–19 and 25–17 wins.
Including this weekend’s results, Yale has won eight straight matches. During that streak the Bulldogs have dropped just three sets, one each to Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton.
The Elis will be back in action this weekend as they welcome Brown to the John J. Lee Amphitheater. The match tips off at 5 p.m. Friday night.