For a team that plays all its other regular season games in the northeast, this past weekend’s trip to Texas for the Rice Invitational was a journey into unknown territory for most of the Yale volleyball team. But Houston native and outside hitter Megan Rasmussen ’18 thrived on her hometown court, finishing the three-match tournament with 27 kills and 20 digs.
With all-tournament selections outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17 and setter Franny Arnautou ’20 leading the way alongside Rasmussen, Yale (7–2, 0–0 Ivy) left the Lone Star State with a 2–1 record, defeating Houston (5–6, 0–0 American) and Texas A&M Corpus Christi (5–6, 0–0 Southland) after a Friday night loss to Rice (7–7, 0–0 Conference USA).
“This weekend was a good test for us because people stepped up when they needed to most,” Steinberg said. “We proved to ourselves that we could take care of business and play well in a tight-game situation, which is something that is always good to see before entering Ivy play.”
Rice made quick work of the Bulldogs, defeating Yale in three decisive sets, 25–8, 25–15 and 25–20. Though the Owls entered the tournament with a losing record, they play a much tougher schedule than the Elis, including 3–2 and 3–1 losses to No. 9 BYU and No. 21 Southern California, respectively.
Yale kept it close early in the first set, tying the game at five before Rice scored the next nine points and dominated the rest of the set. Following an initial 1–0 advantage for Yale in the second set, the Owls again took over, jumping out to leads of 11–6 and 19–12 before closing out an easy 25–15 set win.
Despite trailing 2–0, Yale looked better in the third set behind the leadership of Steinberg. Four of the senior’s nine kills in the match came during the third set, and the Bulldogs lost by just five points.
“We wish we were able to come out stronger from the jump and make adjustments on the fly more quickly,” Arnautou said. “We picked up our level of play a lot by the third game and feel like if we had begun the match like that, things could’ve gone differently.”
On Saturday morning against Houston, Yale cooked up a straight-set victory of its own, 25–17, 25–13 and 25–12, behind a strong performance from Rasmussen.
Following a straightforward first-set win, Yale utterly dominated the beginning of the second game. The Elis opened with eight consecutive points and tallied 12 of the first 14, ultimately settling down for a clear 12-point victory.
Initially leading 24–16 in the third set, the Bulldogs faced a bit of adversity, a five-point Cougar run, before they were able to close out the match with a kill from Rasmussen. The junior led all players with 13 kills and also added 11 digs, both bests in her Yale career.
Rasmussen averaged just 1.48 kills per set last year. Along with the hometown crowd, Rasmussen’s grandmother made the journey from Iowa to see Rasmussen play for the first time in her volleyball career.
“It was amazing to be back in Texas again, and then for the team to play well this weekend and grab some hard-fought wins was the icing on the cake,” Rasmussen said.
Steinberg, outside hitter Tristin Kott ’20 and middle blocker Claire Feeley ’17 each delivered six kills. Libero Kate Swanson ’19 led the match with 20 digs.
Seven of Yale’s first eight matches this season have been three-set affairs, but the Bulldogs got a test from Texas A&M Corpus Christi in their tournament finale. Yale took the first set 25–17, but the Islanders responded with a 25–14 victory in the second.
Steinberg dominated the third set, with five of her 12 kills coming with the match tied at one set apiece. She scored three of Yale’s final five points in the set, giving the Bulldogs a 25–16 edge. With her team leading 24–23 in the fourth set, Steinberg delivered an ace to secure the victory for Yale.
Kott, a freshman, led all players in Saturday evening’s match with 13 kills.
Yale opens Ivy League play next weekend when it travels to Brown for a 7 p.m. match on Friday night.