After suffering its first Ivy weekend sweep since 2010, the Yale volleyball team looks to rebound and make up ground in the conference title race with two home matches this weekend.
Yale (8–6, 3–2 Ivy) plays host to Penn and Princeton, both of which are jockeying with the Bulldogs for position in the Ancient Eight standings. Penn (9–8, 3–2) sits tied for third place with Yale, while Princeton (7–7, 2–3) lies just one game back in fifth.
The Bulldogs were thoroughly dismantled on the road last weekend, dropping Friday’s four-set match to Dartmouth before being swept in straight sets by rival Harvard on Saturday. While the losses knocked Yale out of the top spot in the Ivy standings, the Elis remain in the thick of the title race if they can regain their early-season form and maintain it for the remainder of the season.
“Being at home is big for us right now,” middle blocker Jesse Ebner ’16 said. “We’ll be comfortable and in our routine, so hopefully we’ll be more ready at the start of our matches.”
The Quakers visit New Haven in the midst of an up-and-down season. Two weeks ago, Penn bested Dartmouth in a three-set road win but suffered a sweep the next day at the hands of Harvard. Most recently, Penn enters the weekend after a four-set home loss to the middling Columbia Lions.
In order to contend with Yale’s hard-hitting attack, Penn will likely rely on the stellar play of outside hitter Alexis Genske, who ranks third in the conference with 196 kills and earned a spot on last week’s Ivy League Honor Roll. Genske was the lone Quaker to record double-digit kills and digs in both of her matches this past weekend.
The Bulldogs must also focus on containing Penn setter Ronnie Bither, who leads the Ivy League with 9.21 assists per set. Bither also ranks 13th in the Ivy League in digs, one of three Quakers in the conference’s top 15.
The night after its matchup against Penn, Yale plays against Princeton, which enters the weekend on an opposite trajectory from the Bulldogs. While the Elis started the conference season 3–0 before dropping their last two games, the Tigers won both games this past weekend to climb out of the Ivy cellar. With a Friday victory against Brown, Princeton would enter its match against Yale with an even 0.500 in-conference record.
“Both Penn and Princeton have some strong pin hitters that we need to contain,” captain and outside hitter Karlee Fuller ’16 said. “They run some different defenses, but if we focus on our side of the net and control what we are able to control, we will find success.”
Two standout juniors comprise a significant part of the Tiger attack. Outside hitter Cara Mattaliano reached her seventh double-double of the season on Saturday with 10 kills and 12 digs, achieving Ivy League Honor Roll status for her performance on the weekend. Middle blocker Brittany Ptak also excelled, committing zero errors all weekend while recording 20 kills across the two matches.
Setter Kelly Johnson ’16 noted that the Bulldogs, seeking their sixth-consecutive Ivy title, know that every conference opponent has Yale circled on their calendars. After last week’s struggles, she said that the key to a rebound is playing more comfortable on the court.
“There is always pressure to win regardless of what our record is, but we aren’t focused on that pressure,” Johnson said. “We are working to get better and have fun every time we step on the court. If we do that, the score will take care itself.”
Yale hosts Penn on Friday at 7 p.m. and Princeton on Saturday at 5 p.m.