The Yale volleyball team entered the weekend undefeated and alone atop the Ivy League. Two blowout losses later, however, the Bulldogs sit tied for third place behind both of this weekend’s opponents, Dartmouth and Harvard.
Yale (8–6, 3–2 Ivy) fell in four sets to the Big Green (7–7, 4–1) on Friday, dropping the first two frames and failing to duplicate last weekend’s miracle comeback against Cornell. Against Harvard (8–7, 4–1) on Saturday, the Bulldogs lost the first two sets of a match for the third consecutive time and eventually fell 3–0. The weekend marks the first time since 2010 that the Bulldogs dropped two consecutive Ivy League matches.
“I think that we lacked our usual tenacity, and didn’t battle defensively as we needed to,” captain and outside hitter Karlee Fuller ’16 said. “We struggled to get our rhythm going at the start of both matches, and then didn’t play catch up well.”
In the loss to Dartmouth, the Bulldogs got off on the wrong foot, falling down 6–0 in the opening set before a kill from outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 got Yale on the board. A furious comeback kept the Bulldogs close in the first set, but they eventually fell 29–27.
In the second set, Yale took an 18–12 lead and seemed set to tie up the match at one set apiece. A Dartmouth timeout stymied the Elis’ momentum, however, and the Big Green came back to tie the match at 18. From there, the teams traded punches before Dartmouth pulled out the final two points and took the set 25–23.
The Bulldogs won the third set, but Dartmouth dominated the fourth, winning the final six points to close out a 25–15 set and complete a comfortable victory. A week after coming back with three straight set wins to beat Cornell at home, Yale proved unable to do so on the road against a more talented Big Green squad.
“We lacked the focus we usually have in our own gym,” setter Kelly Johnson ’16 said. “We started off slow in both matches and relied on our ability to come back and fight, which obviously wasn’t enough.”
Facing Harvard the next night, the Bulldogs succumbed to the same slow start that plagued them in the Dartmouth match. Yale committed five errors early on to fall behind 13–6 and could not make up that ground, losing the set by the same seven-point margin.
Just as in the first set, the Elis never led in the second set. Harvard won five consecutive points to open up a 24–15 lead, and although two service aces from setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 and two Harvard errors held off an immediate Crimson victory, the Cantabs eventually took the set on a kill by middle blocker Jocelyn Meyer.
The third set told the same story, with Harvard winning the first five points and easily closing out the Bulldogs. All in all, Yale was unable to hold a lead at any point in a set, resulting in a blowout loss at the hands of its biggest rival.
This weekend’s disappointing results marked a major swing from the past two weekends’ conference successes. While Harvard and Dartmouth appear to be Yale’s biggest competition atop the Ivy League, the Bulldogs’ inability to compete on the road may cause trouble against lesser opponents as well.
“We are getting back to the basics in practice, getting better everyday, and focusing one game at a time to move forward this season,” Crawford said.
While the Bulldogs were able to recover from last year’s loss at Harvard to eventually win the league and beat the Crimson in the NCAA tiebreaker game in Cambridge, this weekend’s pair of lopsided defeats marks an uncertain future for Yale’s season, especially given the heightened expectations that come after five straight Ivy League titles.
Nonetheless, the veteran Bulldogs are confident about their chances moving forward.
“We aren’t out of the race for the Ivy championship,” Johnson said. “This weekend is going to push us to be that much better so the next time we play Harvard and Dartmouth, there will be a different story to report.”
This upcoming weekend, Yale returns home to play Penn and Princeton in another pair of conference contests.