The Yale volleyball team will battle Dartmouth and Harvard for the second time this season on Friday and Saturday.
Though the Elis (11–6, 7–1 Ivy) swept the Big Green (13–6, 4–4) in three sets earlier this season, they suffered a 3–2 loss at the hands of the Crimson (13–4, 6–2) on Oct. 3. Yale is currently on a six-game winning streak and remains at the top of the league, though Harvard is only one win away from tying for the coveted number one spot.
“I think this is one of the hardest weekends simply because both teams are very good,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “Dartmouth will be tough because they’ve had all week to prepare for us, and Harvard will be tough because they’re very talented.”
Dartmouth enters this weekend’s matches having suffered fresh losses to Penn and Harvard during the last two weekends.
Despite the two-game losing streak, Appleman warned against reading too much into a team’s current record because there have been so many close five-set matches among Ivy League squads. Additionally, every team in the Ancient Eight has been handed at least one loss so far.
The Big Green can run a variety of options in their effort to defeat the Bulldogs, according to middle blocker Jesse Ebner ’16. She added that they will be able to constantly sub throughout the game and have a lot of energy coming in, especially since Dartmouth has 21 players on its roster while the Bulldogs have just 15 on their squad.
Harvard, though, may prove to be Yale’s toughest opponent yet. Harvard is currently on a five-game winning streak and leads the conference in hitting percentage, assists and kills. The Crimson has hit 0.254 to Yale’s 0.233 and averaged 12.76 assists and 13.71 kills per set to Yale’s 12.23 and 13.09, respectively.
On the other hand, team statistics may not tell the whole story. Dartmouth beat Harvard in the teams’ first meeting, but Harvard beat Dartmouth this weekend, proving that every team is prone to losses this season, according to outside hitter and captain Mollie Rogers ’15.
“Every team in the Ivy League right now can beat every other team. Every team is very dangerous right now,” Ebner said.
Furthermore, Harvard will face Brown on Friday before playing Yale on Saturday. The Bears beat the Crimson 3–0 in the first half of the season in one of their three conference victories, further proving the parity in the Ivy League.
“Of course there is a Harvard-Yale rivalry in every sport and every facet of Yale life, and when the time comes to play Harvard, we’ll definitely have that rivalry as extra motivation,” setter Kelly Johnson ’16 said. “But at the same time, both Dartmouth and Harvard have very strong hitters and servers. Both games will be extremely competitive battles.”
Rogers, Johnson and Ebner all agreed that the second half of league play is more challenging but also much more fun. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each team is a double-edged sword that elevates the level of competition, Rogers said. At the same time, Johnson believes that learning from previous mistakes has made the Bulldogs a stronger team.
When the Elis have back-to-back games over the weekend, they prepare for both teams during the week but focus mainly on the Friday night game. Then, after the Friday match is over, they head straight to the media room and watch film for the Saturday game. On Saturday morning, they watch more film.
“You just have to shift your focus right away and can’t think about what happened on Friday, whether it was good or bad,” Ebner said.
This year, the team has started to put the name of the next team they are playing on the door to their locker room to make sure they are only focusing on that one team.
Last week, middle blocker Maya Midzik ’16 and setters Kelsey Crawford ’18 and Kelly Johnson ’16 carried the Bulldogs to a decisive 3–0 victory over Brown, earning them Ivy League honor roll mentions. Crawford contributed 36 assists while Midzik and Johnson put up 10 kills each in the match.
Yale and Harvard are ranked in the top 100 teams nationwide, with the Bulldogs just making the list at No. 97 and the Crimson sitting at No. 83.