Chasing a sixth consecutive Ivy League title, the Yale volleyball team split a pair of road games at Princeton and Penn this weekend, dropping the Elis to fourth place in the Ancient Eight and leaving their championship hopes on life support.
The Bulldogs (12–9, 7–5 Ivy) needed two wins to keep pace with Ivy-leading Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth, who are all tied for second. Each team went 2–0 this weekend, leaving Yale two games behind Harvard and one game behind both Princeton and Dartmouth.
Yale dropped the first two sets in lopsided fashion to the Tigers (13–8, 8–4) on Friday and was unable to come from behind for the victory, rendering Saturday’s contest against Penn (11–13, 5–7) a must-win to sustain its slim championship hopes.
“Our loss at Princeton certainly didn’t help us,” captain and outside hitter Karlee Fuller ’16 said. “[Princeton] really wanted to beat us and played like it. We were hesitant and made errors, which unfortunately was what really hurt us in the end.”
While the Elis beat the Quakers on Saturday night, they still find themselves in need of two wins to close out the season and additional upsets to earn themselves a potential share of the conference title. Should Yale defeat both Harvard and Dartmouth next weekend, the Crimson must also lose to Brown on Saturday and Princeton must lose to either Cornell and Columbia in order for the Bulldogs to climb to the top of the standings. The complex scenario was made more difficult by the defeat at Princeton.
On Friday night, Yale faced Princeton, who now boasts a league-best five-game winning streak, in a crucial match for both teams. The Bulldogs allowed the Tigers to jump out to a 7–0 lead in the first set, buoyed by three kills from outside hitter Kendall Peterkin.
“We didn’t start the first set well, so we were trying to dig ourselves out of a hole the entire match,” outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17 said. “There were moments of great volleyball, but unfortunately we weren’t able to demonstrate that from the beginning.”
While the strong play of Steinberg and outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 carried the Bulldogs back to within a single point at 10–11, errors from Wirth and setter Kelly Johnson ’16 handed Princeton the momentum it needed and the Tigers eventually closed out the set with two service aces from outside hitter Kelly Matthews.
Princeton pulled away late in the second set, piecing together a 9–1 run to turn a 9–8 deficit into a 17–10 advantage in cruising to a 25–14 set victory. Facing a 2–0 hole, the Bulldogs took command of the third set, boosted by the inspired play of outside hitter Megan Rasmussen ’18, who recorded four kills in the frame, and Johnson, whose second kill of the set finished off a tightly contested 25–23 victory.
In the fourth, though, the Tigers were able to pull away late to claim the match.
Yale ended with a sloppy sequence, as errors from Wirth and setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 allowed Princeton to close out the victory. Crawford recorded 30 assists and seven digs in her first appearance in nearly a month, but her return was not enough to keep Yale competitive.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs took out some of the previous night’s frustration on a Penn team coming off of consecutive 3-0 victories. Yale posted an excellent .374 hitting percentage in the four-set victory, recording only 12 errors against 67 kills.
“We passed and dug really well against Penn down the stretch, allowing us to have two to three hitting options each play, making our sets unpredictable,” Rasmussen said. “We were able to fire and hit from all angles.”
The Elis’ offensive outburst came from a number of sources, with four players providing at least 10 kills. Steinberg, Wirth and Johnson totaled 49 kills against only 10 errors, and Maya Midzik ’16 added 10 kills with only a single miscue. Crawford posted a season-high 53 assists and even added two key kills in the 25–20 first set Yale victory.
Moving into the season’s pivotal final two matches, the Bulldogs will look to translate the momentum from their dominating Saturday performance. While Yale needs some help to continue its championship run for another year, the Elis say they are focused on beating Harvard and Dartmouth and letting things play out.
“I think this weekend is a chance for us to rise to the challenge and fight with all that we have,” Fuller said. “We have a lot going for us this weekend: both games are at home with our fantastically rowdy crowd, it will be an emotional senior weekend, and we will be the underdogs … it’s just up to us to perform and control the match.”
Yale hosts Harvard on Friday before welcoming Dartmouth to New Haven on Saturday. Yale’s first two losses of the Ivy League portion of the schedule came against the Crimson and Big Green in early October.