After completing the first half of its Ivy League season with a 5–2 record, the Yale volleyball team began its final stretch with a disappointing four-set loss at Brown on Friday, significantly lowering its chances at a sixth-consecutive Ivy title.
Yale (10–7, 5–3 Ivy) continued its struggles on the road, falling to 0–3 in conference away games. The Bulldogs, who had not lost to the Bears since 2005, battled even with Brown (10–10, 4–4) for two sets but were thoroughly dismantled in the match’s final two frames.
“I think we failed to execute this weekend,” captain and outside hitter Karlee Fuller ’16 said. “Brown is a feisty team that really wanted to beat us, and we didn’t combat that passion to the best of our ability.”
Having lost all three of their conference road matches, the Bulldogs sit at a crossroads as they seek an Ivy League title. Though the three Ivy losses are the most Yale has had since 2009, the team is still in control of its destiny. Winning out — which would require home victories over conference leaders Dartmouth and Harvard late in the season — would guarantee the Elis at least a share of the conference title.
The Bulldogs opened the match looking like a far superior unit, getting kills from five different players en route to a 7–2 lead. However, Brown quickly came back to tie the frame at eight apiece. After a back-and-forth battle, the Bears fought back to win a tight 26–24 set, with major contributions from outside hitter Sabrina Stillwell and middle blocker Payton Smith, who combined for 11 of Brown’s 19 first-set kills.
Yale rebounded in the second set. The Bulldogs won the frame’s final six points to pull away from a 19–19 deadlock, getting four kills each from outside hitters Kelley Wirth ’19 and Jesse Ebner ’16. The set-clinching kill came from middle hitter Meaghan Truman ’18, whose three kills matched her season total coming into the weekend.
The Bulldogs entered the match’s all-important third set looking to carry forward their momentum and take a commanding 2–1 lead. Instead, Yale’s offense tanked, with only seven kills against five errors in the third set, while Brown significantly improved its play. The Bears took advantage of errors from Fuller and outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17 to open up a 12–4 lead, and Yale was unable to sustain a comeback, succumbing by a 25–14 margin.
“We just have to continue staying focused on controlling our side of the net,” Steinberg said. “For this coming weekend, we have to stay consistent throughout the course of a game.”
The fourth set proceeded in a painfully similar fashion as the Bulldogs continued to struggle, losing seven of the first 10 points and 19 of the first 30.
Yale made a brief run aided by two Ebner kills to close the gap to 20–15, but errors from Wirth and Steinberg sparked another Bear run. Brown closed out the match by a sizable 25–16 score.
“We weren’t as consistent as last weekend,” setter Kelly Johnson ’16 said, referring to Yale’s 3–1 and 3–0 victories over Penn and Princeton, respectively. “The small errors added up, and Brown took advantage of that.”
While Yale’s struggles magnified as the match went on, Brown grew stronger as it closed out the contest. The Bulldogs committed just five errors in their first two sets before combining for 11 in an ugly latter half of the match. On the other hand, the Bears hit for a higher percentage in each successive game, peaking with an impressive 0.342 mark in the deciding fourth set.
The next two weekends send Yale on another pair of road trips, facing four Ancient Eight rivals that the Elis soundly defeated on their home floor. With title contention likely hinging on wins in every match, Yale must fix its road woes and vanquish its next four opponents.
“I’m not worried about us being on the road, but we will have to show extreme focus and effort in practice this week to get back to the level of play that is required for the rest of the season,” Fuller said. “Looking forward, I have complete faith in the resilience and drive of this team.”
Yale visits Cornell and Columbia next weekend.