After a 1–2 performance in the season-opening Yale Invitational, the Yale volleyball team traveled to New York seeking redemption in the Colgate Classic. After dropping only two sets over three matches, the Bulldogs emerged as champions.
Facing Albany, Rutgers and host Colgate, the Bulldogs (4–2, 0–0 Ivy) cruised all weekend. While Yale’s home tournament served as a warmup of sorts for the Elis, their performance at Colgate showed why they can be considered a favorite for the Ivy League crown this season.
“We played much more aggressively [than we did in the Yale Invitational],” setter Kelly Johnson ’16 said. “Our passing was solid, which allowed us to run a strong offense. We also blocked well and played very scrappy defense.”
The Bulldogs began the tournament against Albany (5–4, 0–0 America East) on Friday night, and they struggled out of the gate. Yale dropped the first set to the Great Danes by a lopsided 10-point margin, and the team struggled to pull away in a back-and-forth second frame before finally coming away with a 25–21 victory.
For the Elis, starting matches strong has been a point of emphasis thus far. Yale fell in two of its three opening sets last weekend and continued to surrender early deficits at this weekend’s tournament.
“We have been working on being more ready at the beginning of matches so that teams don’t catch us off guard and leave us in an early hole,” middle blocker Jesse Ebner ’16 said. “Although there’s still room for improvement, we did a better job of executing in the first set this weekend. We also played much smoother at times this weekend and were able to find a good rhythm.”
After the rough start against Albany, however, the Bulldogs rolled, taking control and blowing open a tight third set before coasting through the fourth and final set for a 3–1 victory. The win showcased the talent of outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17, a 2013 All-Ivy selection, who finished with 10 kills and 13 digs.
Steinberg, who lost most of the 2014–15 season to injury, seems ready to contribute once again and should provide a major boost for the Bulldogs both offensively and defensively. Johnson described Steinberg’s play as awesome and pinpointed her as a key to Yale’s successful weekend.
“Preseason is a time to identify our weaknesses and turn them into strengths, and this tournament helped us do that,” Johnson said.
Yale’s second game against Colgate (0–9, 0–0 Patriot) proved much less challenging. After falling into a quick 6–5 hole, the Bulldogs rattled off eight consecutive points and coasted to a first set victory. Yale won the next two sets in a similarly comfortable fashion, setting up a match against Rutgers that would give the Bulldogs the tournament crown.
Yale coasted through two sets against the Scarlet Knights (2–7, 0–0 Big Ten), winning each by an identical score of 25–14. In both sets, the Bulldogs held a narrow 9–7 lead before finishing the set on a 16–7 run to easily put away their opponent.
The Elis then dropped the third set before jumping out to a 16–9 fourth set lead and clinching the tournament victory after holding off a feverish Rutgers rally buoyed by a number of Yale errors.
While the Bulldogs could have been more efficient with their performance, the players were happy to come away from the weekend with a championship and a perfect record away from home.
“This experience was incredible,” Ebner said. “We haven’t won a tournament since I’ve been here, and it just felt great to be able to execute for three matches. Colgate was a great host, and the tournament was a lot of fun.”
In addition to Yale’s team championship, a number of individual Bulldogs were rewarded with spots on the all-tournament team. Setter Kelsey Crawford ’18, last year’s Ivy Rookie of the Year, won the tournament’s MVP award after tallying 106 assists over the three matches, and both Johnson and outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 were honored as well.
Besides those three, Johnson highlighted a few other key performers, emphasizing the play of captain and outside hitter Karlee Fuller ’16 as well as Kate Swanson ’19, who made her first appearance as libero for Yale.
Yale looks to carry its momentum from this weekend onto its next tournament. The Bulldogs will be taking the season’s longest road trip, heading to San Francisco next weekend to compete against San Francisco, North Dakota State and Cal State Fullerton.