The Yale volleyball team offered fans a glimpse of the future in its season-ending victory over Hartford on Tuesday, Nov. 24, rolling to a three-set victory which featured major contributions from several underclassmen who will likely feature more prominently in next year’s Bulldog lineup.
The Elis (15–9, 9–5 Ivy) closed out their Ivy League season with a pair of victories over Harvard and Dartmouth three weekends ago, and Tuesday’s win over the Hawks (2–27, 1–11 America East) enabled the team to end the year with a season-high four-game winning streak. No Yale player exceeded eight kills in the match, but 11 different Bulldogs contributed to the offensive onslaught as the team hit for an excellent 0.333 percentage.
“We were able to try a bunch of different people and lineups which all performed really well,” outside hitter Megan Rasmussen ’18 said. “It was really cool to see that no matter who we put in, the team still looked awesome.”
Yale jumped out to an early lead against Hartford and cruised through the first set. The frame appeared to be a tight one when the Hawks’ Rachel Moll pulled Hartford within 10–5, but Yale ripped off an impressive 15 points in a row, buoyed by four service aces from setter Kelsey Crawford ’18.
Crawford totaled five aces for the match, and the team recorded 13 over three sets, which toppled their season record of nine, set in a five-setter against Rice in September. In addition to Crawford, outside hitter Kaitlyn Gibbons ’18 showed promise as a server, recording four aces in the third and final set.
While the second and third sets were not as lopsided as the 25–5 first frame, Yale was never threatened in its quest to end the season with another tally in the win column. Crawford continued her serving streak from the first set as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 5–0 lead in the second, and outside hitters Gray Malias ’19 and Rasmussen combined for nine kills in the 25–13 set.
Yale allowed the Hawks to sniff the lead in the final set, as Hartford led 13–12 at one point. From there, though, the Bulldogs took control and were able to close out a 25–18 third set and seal the sweep. Yale ended its season in appropriate fashion, as captain and outside hitter Karlee Fuller ’16 served out the final few points, contributing her last ace in Yale blue.
Fuller, and the rest of the talented senior class that claimed three Ivy League championships in their time in New Haven, will not be easily replaced. In addition to the leadership void left by the departure of Fuller, the Bulldogs will sorely miss four-time first-team All-Ivy outside hitter Kelly Johnson ’16 and All-Ivy honorable mention middle blocker Maya Midzik ’16. Nonetheless, the returning Bulldogs said the mindset that the class of 2016 passed down will serve them well moving forward.
“The seniors have all led by example during their careers here,” libero Tori Shepherd ’17 said. “They’ve shaped this program to be one of the most hardworking and competitive in the Ivy League.”
Looking ahead to next fall, Yale will rely on upperclassmen stars such as Crawford, Gibbons and outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17, but the Bulldogs will also need younger players to step into larger roles. Besides second-team all-Ivy outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19, who led the Bulldogs with 253 kills in her debut campaign, and libero Kate Swanson ’19, the rest of Yale’s freshman class received limited playing time this season.
Against Hartford, though, the other three members of the class of 2019 got a chance to display the skills that they will add to next year’s Yale roster. Malias recorded a season-high seven kills with no errors, and middle blockers Kate Aitkenhead ’19 and Shreya Dixit ’19 combined for four kills and a 0.500 hitting percentage.
For the Bulldogs to bounce back in 2016 and return to the form that won them five consecutive conference titles, veterans and inexperienced players alike will need to build on the progress shown in the season-ending winning streak.
“We want to be the hardest working team in the Ivy League, and this spring we’re going to train like it in both the gym and the weight room,” Steinberg said. “Our team showed vast improvements in the last few games of the season, so we will take the momentum from those wins and carry that into our spring training. We’re really excited for the future of this team.”
Yale finished the season tied for third place in the Ivy League, one game behind co-champions Harvard and Princeton.