After a successful start to conference play, the Yale volleyball team is looking to build on last weekend’s league-opening win over Brown as it takes on a pair of opponents this weekend in New Haven.
Yale (6–4, 1–0 Ivy) will host Columbia (3–7, 1–0) on Friday and Cornell (4–7, 0–1) on Saturday as the Elis continue their quest for a sixth-consecutive Ivy League crown. The matches follow Yale’s conference opener at home last Friday, which saw the Bulldogs defeat their rivals from Providence in four sets.
“It’s always great to start out the [conference] season with a 1–0 record. As the season progresses, we are trying to set the bar higher and higher,” outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17 said.
In Friday’s match, history certainly favors the hosts: the Lions have not beaten Yale in 26 straight meetings. In fact, since the Columbia volleyball program began in 1988, Yale has lost to the Lions just three times, once in 1990 and twice in 2001. The one common opponent the teams have faced this year, Rhode Island, defeated Columbia in three straight sets but fell to Yale in four.
Still, Columbia comes in riding the momentum of a comeback win over Cornell in which the Lions pulled out the final three sets after dropping the first. Columbia freshman middle blocker Luciana Del Valle received the Ivy League Rookie of the Week award for her efforts in Ithaca.
“Columbia has some offensive threats from the pins and middle that pose a threat,” captain and outside hitter Karlee Fuller ’16 said. “They are fast and scrappy, but I’m confident that if we handle our side of the court, we will be fine.”
Yale, however, also has multiple offensive threats of its own who have proven themselves early in the conference season. Setter Kelly Johnson ’16 led all players with 18 kills against Brown, while middle blocker Maya Midzik ’16 and outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 each posted 11 in the win. All three players, along with libero Kate Swanson ’19, were named to the Ivy League Honor Roll this week for their efforts.
Cornell will arrive at Lee Amphitheater following a Friday night game at Brown. The Big Red, which has yet to play a match outside the state of New York, has also had one common opponent with the Bulldogs. Both teams lost to the University of San Francisco, with Yale dropping its match in three sets and Cornell falling in four.
First-year Cornell head coach Trudy Vande Berg has inherited a team in a curious position. Although the Big Red finished eighth in last year’s Ancient Eight standings, it lost only one starter from that squad and has just one senior this season. With that combination of youth and experience, Vande Berg is attempting to turn around the fortunes of a program that has not seen a winning season since 2006.
“Cornell is traditionally the opposite [of Columbia],” said Fuller. “They rely on their height and strength to score. Every year teams change, though, so we have to be prepared for anything.”
Playing two dissimilar opponents on back-to-back nights presents a test for the Bulldogs that they did not in their conference opener. The win over Brown, though a definitive 3–1 victory, was the only match during the weekend for which Yale needed to prepare during the week.
Although Yale is no stranger to multiple-match weekends — the team opened the season with three tournaments — the players noted that conference matches present a different challenge altogether.
“With only one game, we only need to worry about scouting for one team,” middle back Jesse Ebner ’16 said. “So the challenge this weekend will be taking it one match at a time such that our focus is solely on Columbia on Friday night, and then we need to make that shift on Saturday morning to scouting and thinking about Cornell.”
Still, while the Bulldogs are preparing for two opponents, they hope to perform at what Steinberg called a “high and focused level” throughout the entire weekend.
And Fuller emphasized that five straight league titles — let alone one conference victory — have not diminished the team’s hunger to continue its winning ways.
“[We’re] extremely charged for our next set of games,” Fuller said. “It’s like a craving. Once you have a taste of victory you want another, and then another.”
Friday night’s match will be played in support of the Dig Pink Rally organized by the Side-Out Foundation, which helps breast cancer patients through research and support. The contest against Columbia will begin at 7 p.m., while Saturday’s matchup with Cornell is slated for 5 p.m.