For the Yale volleyball team, putting together a perfect 3–0 record at last weekend’s Colgate Classic was an indicator of the team’s sky-high potential. As a result, the Bulldogs (4–2, 0–0 Ivy) see a higher possible peak for their performance come Ivy season.
This weekend, Yale heads out west to San Francisco, spending their final set of nonconference preseason games facing tough competition in an unfamiliar environment. The Elis will face San Francisco (10–0, 0–0 WCC), North Dakota State (7–3, 0–0 Summit) and Cal State Fullerton (0–9, 0–0 Big West).
Not only have all three opponents played at least three more games than the Bulldogs, but Yale must face them all in a span of less than 24 hours, testing the team’s endurance and depth more than the season’s other tournaments.
The combination of the grueling schedule, hectic travel arrangements and time differences make the San Francisco Challenge especially difficult for the Bulldogs, but some members of the team are unfazed.
“It’s a chance to prove ourselves in an uncomfortable environment, but it won’t be that different from any other tournament,” middle blocker Claire Feeley ’17 said. “As a team, we’re pretty accustomed and well-prepared to traveling, and we have our routines that we do every time.”
Additionally, this experience has special significance for a number of Yale players. More than half of the Bulldog roster hails from California, and many players’ parents will be in attendance, a rarity during Yale’s home contests.
Having family attend matches adds a further level of excitement, according to players on the team.
“I think traveling far distances is always hard,” middle blocker Lucy Tashman ’17 said. “But we are so excited for this tournament.”
Tashman hails from Atherton, less than an hour’s drive from the University of San Francisco campus.
As the Bulldogs played in a Southern California tournament last season and stayed on the East Coast in 2013, this marks Tashman and other Bulldogs’ first chance to play in front of a true hometown crowd.
“People are really excited to be going home and family is coming out to visit,” Feeley said. “It’s a tournament that we don’t necessarily do every year but people get the most excited because they know people there and grew up there.”
Yale begins the tournament against the host Dons, who enter the game with a sterling 10–0 record. San Francisco has dropped only four sets in their 10 matches thus far, setting up a daunting contest for the Bulldogs.
Beyond the challenge of facing such an experienced and dominant squad, the game has further significance for Feeley and middle blocker Jesse Ebner ’16, as the Dons’ roster includes one of each player’s former high school teammates.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs first face North Dakota State. The Bison also enter the tournament on a hot streak, winning four of their last five games including a five-set victory over UC Irvine. Yale will look to tarnish North Dakota State’s perfect 4–0 neutral-site record, but to do so they will have to overcome powerful outside hitter Jenni Fassbender, who has compiled 142 kills thus far this season.
Yale finishes the tournament with what should be an easier game against Cal State Fullerton. The Titans enter this weekend still seeking their first win, having dropped all three games at their home invitational before losing six more in their two subsequent tournament appearances.
The Bulldogs played in last season’s Titan Invitational, defeating the hosts in four sets. Yale was led by 14 kills from setter and outside hitter Kelly Johnson ’16 and 42 assists and 11 digs from setter Kelsey Crawford ’18, both of whom will look to build upon last weekend’s all-tournament performances and dominate the Titans once again.
Yale will take on San Francisco tonight at 9:30 p.m. to open the San Francisco Classic.