It has been almost two years since the Yale women’s volleyball team lost a conference match. This weekend Yale hosts two longtime rivals who are eager to break that record.
The Bulldogs (9–3, 3–0 Ivy) will face Penn (7–7, 1–2) today and Princeton (6–7, 2–1) on Saturday in their last pair of home games before starting a five-game road trip next week.
The Elis are sitting atop the Ivy League as the only undefeated team in the conference. They are also the only team with an overall record above 0.500. Cornell, Brown and Princeton sit in a three-way tie for second, waiting for the Elis to fall. Penn is tied for fifth with Harvard and Columbia, but it boasts a 6–4 record over its last 10 games.
As always, the Ivy League conference is competitive from top to bottom, captain Kendall Polan ’14 said.
“All eight [schools] are pretty equal,” Polan said. “I think anyone is capable of winning.”
Today Yale takes on the Quakers. Penn comes in having eked out a victory on the road over the Big Red last weekend, handing Cornell its first loss of the season.
“Both [Penn and Princeton] have had success in the past,” libero Tori Shepherd ’17 said. “They know what they’re doing and they know how to win.”
For Shepherd, this weekend’s matchup with Penn presents a special opportunity. Her sister, Dani Shepherd, is a libero for the Quakers. Shepherd said she is used to cheering her sister on, but it will be interesting being on the other side of the net this time around.
Last year Yale beat Penn in straight sets, but the length of the match hardly indicated its competitiveness. Penn pushed Yale to the brink in the match, leading several times throughout the first set before losing 26–24. In the second set, Penn held an 18–12 lead before libero Maddie Rudnick ’15 stepped up to serve and the Elis went on an improbable 13–1 run for the comeback win. The final set was even at 15-all before Yale pulled away behind a series of kills and attack errors by Penn. The final score was 25–17.
“They’re all-around a very strong team,” Polan said. “I don’t think they rely on just one player; they all contribute. I think it’ll be a really good match.”
Princeton presents another challenge for the Elis. During Yale’s undefeated season last year, Princeton managed to grab second place in the conference. The Tigers have proven themselves to be a top team in the competitive Ivy League conference.
“Princeton is always really good,” Rudnick said. “We definitely want to play our best against them.”
It took Yale’s best to put Princeton away last season. In their first matchup of 2012, Yale prevailed over the Tigers in four sets behind triple doubles from both Polan and setter Kelly Johnson ’16. Three of the four sets were within three points. After dropping the first set by a score of 25–22, Yale scored a comeback victory in the second set to even it up at 1–1. The Elis prevailed with their largest margin of victory in the third set, winning by a score of 25–19. In the fourth and final set, Yale was able to overcome a strong effort by Princeton to pull away late and win 25–22.
Since coach Erin Appleman took over the team in 2003, Yale has been a perennial Ivy League powerhouse.
“Yale volleyball is not defined by taking points off,” Rudnick said. “We’re never lacking in motivation or focus. We try to get everyone to play as a cohesive unit in order to succeed.”
Yale will play Penn tonight at 7 p.m. in Payne Whitney Gym.