Matthew Leifheit

Looking to make up its one-game deficit to league-leading Harvard, the Yale volleyball team split a pair of tense five-set matches in New York this weekend. Still, the Bulldogs remain a single game behind the Crimson — and in control of their own run at a sixth-consecutive Ivy League championship.

The Bulldogs (11–8, 6–4) traveled to face two teams ranked at the bottom of the league last week: Columbia (7–12, 5–5 Ivy) and Cornell (6–14, 2–8). Yale was able to pull away from the Big Red in a decisive final frame on Friday night, but could not make a comeback after overcoming a two-set deficit in Manhattan on Saturday.

“Five-set matches are always challenging because the fifth set can go either way,” outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17 said. “Since the fifth set is only to 15, it’s really all about who comes out swinging from the first point.”

On Friday, the Bulldogs battled in a tight contest with Cornell for the second time this year. The Big Red nearly took down Yale in New Haven before a last-ditch effort propelled the Elis to a miraculous victory, and the Elis once again struggled out of the gate in Ithaca, New York.

In the first set, the Big Red broke a 21-all deadlock with three straight kills, two by outside hitter Carla Sganderlla, before finishing off a 25–22 victory with another kill from Sganderlla. She led Cornell in the contest, recording a match-high 20 kills.

Yale rebounded to take the next two frames, opening up a 14–7 lead and holding on for a 25–23 victory. In the third, the Bulldogs fell in a 22–19 hole but came back to take the final four points, including a kill and a service ace from Steinberg.

The Bulldogs sacrificed a match point in the fourth set with an error from middle blocker Jesse Ebner ’16, and Cornell was able to take the last three points and win 27–25.

The final frame, however, was all Yale.

The Elis won seven of the first eight points, benefiting from four Cornell errors. From there, Yale coasted, finishing off the Big Red with the help of three late kills from outside hitter Kaitlyn Gibbons ’18 and a match-ending service error by Sganderlla.

Yale’s trouble finishing off the last-place Cornell team marked a trend of tough competition for Yale throughout the Ivy season.

“The difference between my freshman year and this year is incredible,” Ebner said. “The parity merely means that we can’t take any days off. We have to be in hyper-focus mode for every single match, because any team can win on any given day.”

After Friday’s tight win, the team stumbled once again out of the gate against Columbia on Saturday.

The Lions picked up nine consecutive early points against the Bulldogs, pulling out to a shocking 12–2 lead. Yale showed signs of sloppy play, with five attack errors contributing to the run. Columbia ripped off another streak to end the set, finishing with five consecutive points and beating the Bulldogs by a lopsided 25–9 margin.

The Elis kept the second frame closer but were unable to pull it out, falling 25–23. From there, Yale mounted a furious comeback, with the play of outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 keying the Bulldogs’ inspired run. Yale took the next two sets 25–18 and 25–19, finishing off each set with kills from outside hitter Maya Midzik ’16 and Wirth.

But in the deciding fifth set, Yale could not outlast the home team. The Bulldogs rallied from an early deficit to pull within 12–11, but a key service error from setter Kelly Johnson ’16 gave Columbia a boost, and attack errors from captain outside hitter Karlee Fuller ’16 and Gibbons finished off the Bulldogs’ hopes.

Despite dropping a game this weekend, Yale remains in an optimal position to make a run for the Ivy title. The Bulldogs still sit a game behind conference-leading Harvard, who also went 1–1 this weekend, while Dartmouth dropped both of their games to fall into a three-way tie with Yale and Princeton for second place.

With games at Penn and Princeton this weekend and home matches against Harvard and Dartmouth on the season’s final days, the Bulldogs still control their own destiny in their quest for another Ivy championship.

Nonetheless, Yale players know they have their work cut out for them.

“The season is getting more and more competitive and intense, which means that our practices have been more competitive and intense to prepare us for tough matches,” outside hitter Megan Rasmussen ’18 said. “Even with the rise in competition, our outlook has not changed. We still take it one game at a time.”

Yale travels to Princeton on Friday night and faces Penn on Saturday.