The volleyball team will charge into the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction this weekend when it travels to Penn and Princeton in an attempt to maintain its hold on first place in the Ivy League.
The Bulldogs (14–5, 10–0 Ivy) currently lead Princeton by two matches and Penn by three heading into the final two weeks of conference competition. If the Elis return to New Haven with two victories, they will clinch the Ivy title and the NCAA tournament berth that goes along with it. Head coach Erin Appleman said the key to the Bulldogs’ success this weekend will be solid team play.
“We just have to do the things that got us here,” Appleman said. “Counting on each other, trusting each other and serving aggressively.”
Yale downed these two opponents at home earlier this season, but accomplishing the same feat away from the John J. Lee Ampitheater will be a tall order. Over the past five years, the Elis have gone 5–5 against Penn and Princeton on the road while playing to a 7–3 record at home.
On Friday night, the Bulldogs will have to contend with Penn’s defense, which has been spectacular all season. The Quakers are first in the nation, just one spot ahead of the Bulldogs, in digs per set with 21.49 — almost two more than the Elis.
Penn libero Dani Shepherd has been the lynchpin of that unit and has led all of Division I in digs per set throughout the season. She currently averages 6.55 digs per set and is coming off her second Ivy League Player of the Week award of the season. Yale setter Kelly Johnson ’16 said that although Shepherd is a great player, the Elis’ offensive approach will not change.
“We try to focus more on what’s happening on our side of the net rather than the team we’re playing,” Johnson said.
Yale will counter the Penn defense with an offense that is one of best in recent Ivy history. The Bulldogs currently rank third in the nation in kills per set, with 14.89, and second in the nation in assists per set, with 13.97.
Yale’s versatile attack continues to propel the offense. Although the Bulldogs have hands-down the best offense in the league, they do not have any players in the top five in kills.
“A lot of people are contributing on the team,” middle blocker Jesse Ebner ’16 said. “Because of our versatility, we’ve been able to be consistent. Even if one person is off, someone else will pick them up.”
But Yale’s defense will be the main concern on Saturday against Princeton. The Tigers’ offense does not run as deep as Yale’s, but Princeton has some serious weapons. Outside hitters Lydia Rudnick and Kendall Peterkin hold the top two spots in the conference in kills per set while setter Ginny Wills is far ahead of the pack in assists per set.
Most years, The Tigers’ home court in the Dillon Gymnasium is a hostile place for the Bulldogs to play. Dillon seats just 1,500 spectators and Appleman said that last year’s match was standing room only. But libero Maddie Rudnick ’15 said that Yale may have caught a stroke of good fortune this season because Princeton is currently on break.
“Last year Princeton had one of the biggest, rowdiest crowds we had faced thus far,” Rudnick said. “Lucky for us, they’re on fall break so they probably won’t have as many fans.”
Whether or not Dillon is filled, the Tigers are sure to be fired up. Saturday night is Princeton’s Senior Night, the final match that the Tigers’ seniors will play at home.
The action begins at Penn tonight at 7 p.m. and wraps up at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Princeton.