Carrying a three-game winning streak into this weekend’s San Francisco Challenge, the Yale volleyball team was unable to sustain the momentum, losing its first two games before ending the tournament with a dominant victory.
This weekend marked the Bulldogs’ final preseason competition and their longest road trip, and the Elis clearly struggled initially to adjust to their tough West Coast competition. Yale lost to undefeated host San Francisco and tournament runner-up North Dakota State before handily defeating the winless Cal State Fullerton.
The difficulty of the grueling travel schedule and tough opponents should serve as good preparation for the high-stress Ivy League season, according to members of the team. Additionally, the tournament provided an opportunity for the many players who call California home to invite their loved ones to see a rare in-person game.
“Traveling out West was for sure tiring as we encountered many traveling obstacles, but it also gave us another opportunity to bond even more,” libero Kate Swanson ’19 said. “It was super fun to see family, friends and alumni.”
In its opening game, Yale (5–4, 0–0 Ivy) was unable to keep up with San Francisco (13–0, 0–0 WCC), who received seven votes in this week’s AVCA Coaches national poll. The Bulldogs led the game’s first set 8–7 before the Dons won 14 of the next 16 points and coasted to a 25–13 set victory.
Unable to keep up with the firepower of San Francisco, Yale dropped the next two sets. San Francisco tallied 49 kills against only four errors across the three sets. The Dons had five players record at least seven kills, while only outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 and setter and outside hitter Kelly Johnson ’16 did so for the Bulldogs.
Johnson, who made the all-tournament team, continued her excellent performance in the Bulldogs’ second game against North Dakota State (9–4, 0–0 Summit), adding 10 digs to her game-high 19 kills. Setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 also recorded an outstanding 41 assists, her most since the season’s opening game. Unfortunately, inconsistent performances across the board plagued the ladies in blue.
The Elis put together a sterling third set, recording only one error against their 16 kills and beating the Bison by a 25–17 margin. In the other three sets, however, Yale choked away early advantages, jumping out to leads of 7–4, 9–6 and 16–10 before succumbing to their opponents.
The Bulldogs committed at least seven errors in two of the game’s four sets, a stark contrast to North Dakota State’s average of less than three per set. As a result, the Bison were able to prevail and drop Yale to 0–2 in the tournament.
In the final match, however, Yale faced a clearly inferior team in Cal State Fullerton (0–12, 0–0 Big West) and took advantage quickly. The Bulldogs started the match with three consecutive errors before righting the ship and winning the first set by a lopsided 25–14 score.
The next set saw Yale battle the Titans to a 20–20 deadlock before pulling away for a 25–22 victory, and the Elis held off a desperate rally to pull out the third set by a 25–20 margin. Yale played a sloppy match, totaling 21 errors in just three sets, but saw excellent performances from captain and outside hitter Karlee Fuller ’16 and middle blocker Jesse Ebner ’16, who together accumulated 10 kills against just one error.
While the weekend resulted in only one win for the Bulldogs, being able to leave on a positive note is an encouraging sign for Yale as it moves toward the beginning of Ivy play on Friday.
“Winning the final game of the weekend is always a great way to end a tournament,” Crawford said.
The Bulldogs must attempt to harness that momentum as they host Brown (6–5, 0–0 Ivy) to open the conference slate. Yale will look to snap the Bears’ three-game winning streak and start the regular season in the win column.
To make that happen, the Bulldogs will need to find a more consistent level of play than their up-and-down performance in San Francisco.
“I think we have done a great job so far of serving tough and being cohesive,” Swanson said. “I think like most teams: With the non-conference season over, we need to focus on improving every day by making each rep count, and staying consistent.”
Yale hosts Brown on Friday at 7 p.m.