After starting its Ivy League season with three consecutive home victories, the Yale volleyball team looks to extend its perfect start to the conference season this weekend when it hits the road to face Dartmouth and Harvard.
Yale (8–4, 3–0 Ivy) sits alone atop the conference standings, just one match ahead of four teams, including the Big Green and Crimson. The upcoming weekend should be the first real test for the Bulldogs, whose first three league opponents currently hold a combined season record of 15–24.
“Harvard is the historical rival, and it’s always fun to be a part of that competitive tradition,” setter Kelly Johnson ’16 said. “It will be a great game because Harvard is a very good team, but we will be focusing on beating Dartmouth first and then shift our focus to how to win at Harvard.”
Dartmouth (5–7, 2–1) comes into this weekend’s matchup as a surprise contender in the Ivy League. The Big Green finished sixth in the conference last season but pulled off a five-set upset at Harvard (6–7, 2–1) to open the Ivy slate before splitting with Penn and Princeton last weekend.
For the Crimson, the conference season-opening loss to Dartmouth was a major surprise. Last year, Harvard’s team swept the Big Green at home in three sets and also defeated Yale twice en route to a share of the Ivy crown with Yale.
This season’s Crimson team, though, does not resemble last fall’s powerhouse squad. Harvard has already exceeded its five losses from the 2014 season, and the team has struggled to replace the contributions of graduated middle blocker Caroline Walters, a three-time All-Ivy player.
Despite Harvard’s issues, Eli players maintained that they expect a battle against their rival. While Yale has left New Haven for two preseason tournaments this fall, its first Ivy League road trip — and especially a game in Cambridge, Massachusetts — will be a new experience for the freshman players.
“It’ll be fun to have a crowd away from home and to have them yelling at us and heckling at us,” outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 said. “I’m excited to be in that environment and to come out and play our best, and hopefully come out with a win.”
From head coach Erin Appleman’s perspective, this weekend’s pair of games will not push the experienced Bulldog squad out of their comfort zone.
Appleman stressed the cumulative experiences of her upperclassmen, for whom away trips in New Hampshire and Massachusetts have become familiar.
The Bulldogs have won their past three matchups when visiting the Big Green. In Cambridge, on the other hand, Yale has dropped its past two regular season matches, although the Elis beat Harvard in three sets to clinch an NCAA tournament berth in last season’s final Ivy game.
“This isn’t that crazy of a weekend, it’s more just being able to play comfortable with each other,” Appleman said.
This weekend, the Bulldogs will draw motivation from their 2014 victory over Harvard, as well as from their current eight-game Ivy League winning streak, which extends back to Nov. 1 of last year.
Another win over the Cantabs can push Yale to two games ahead of the Crimson, keeping the Bulldogs at the top of the Ivy standings.
“This weekend’s matchups are particularly tough and will certainly be close games, but I am excited about the opportunities they present for us to show our resilience and feisty spirit,” captain and outside hitter Karlee Fuller ’16 said. “This is a great chance for us to rise to a challenge and play our hearts out.”
Yale looks to move to 5–0 in the Ivy League on this weekend’s road trip. The Bulldogs face Dartmouth on Friday at 7 p.m. before playing Harvard on Saturday at 5 p.m.