Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Opening the season without the title of defending Ivy League champion for the first time since 2010, the Yale volleyball team took an initial step towards reclaiming its crown with a road sweep of Brown on Friday.

After losing to the Bears on the road last season, the Bulldogs (8–2, 1–0 Ivy) emerged victorious in straight sets in a performance highlighted by standout contributions from outside hitters Tristin Kott ’20 and Megan Rasmussen ’18. Following a 2–5 road record in conference competition in 2015, the Elis started 2016 on a positive note, winning 25–21, 25–17 and 25–19 over Brown.

“Friday’s match was great, not only because it was the first Ivy [match] but also because we were all having so much fun on the court while still maintaining a competitive atmosphere,” Kott said. “This allowed us to keep the pressure and focus on Brown.”

The Bulldogs, who cruised to a 7–2 non-conference record to start the season, controlled the action against Brown from the outset. With the exception of a 2–0 deficit to start the second set, Yale held the lead throughout the entirety of the match.

The Elis capitalized on a slew of Brown errors in the early stages of the match and jumped out to a 21–13 lead in the first set. Facing an early hole, Brown outside hitter Shirin Tooloee rattled off four kills in response as the Bears pulled within one point at 21–20. But Rasmussen halted the Bears’ momentum with a kill, and setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 finished the job with a service ace several points later, delivering the first set to Yale, 25–21.

The second set proceeded in similar fashion. The Bulldogs again built an early lead, quickly winning nine straight points on the strength of two kills from Kott and five more errors from Brown. With the score at 9–2 in Yale’s favor, the Bulldogs had committed nine fewer errors than their opponent. In danger of falling into a two-set hole, the Bears again tightened the score late, pulling within two points at 19–17. At this point, though, the Bulldogs took over, using two kills from outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 and two service aces from outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17 to win the next six points and the set.

“Our team embraces challenges and we get excited during close games,” Steinberg said. “We are able to take a step back during a close match, focus on what we need to do in order to win and then execute that game plan.”

Steinberg’s two aces, along with three from Rasmussen, powered the Bulldogs to an 8–2 service ace advantage over Brown. Through ten games, Steinberg currently leads the team with 13 service aces.

The Bulldogs ramped up their offensive intensity in the third set, completing the match sweep with a 25–19 finish. Yale recorded 17 kills in 25 total points, almost the same tally as in the first two sets combined, while making just one error.

Avoiding mistake-laden volleyball was crucial in Yale’s effort on Friday, with the team committing just 10 errors compared to Brown’s 20. This efficiency, paired with strong attacking and a significant blocking advantage at the net, powered the Elis to their first win of the Ivy League season.

“It was nice to play as a team a little bit more,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “I think we’re starting to figure things out a little bit.”

Kott and Rasmussen led the team with 11 kills apiece and just four attacking errors between them. Rasmussen filled out the stat sheet in other areas as well, posting nine digs, three service aces and two block assists.

While Steinberg, the team leader in kills, has been most notable for her offense throughout the season, her defense stood out on Friday. The Glenview, Illinois native led both sides with 15 digs over the three-set match.

“I try to contribute in any way that I can every time I step on the court,” Steinberg said. “If my team needs me to step up on defense for a certain match, then that’s my main goal. A lot of our hitters were doing great things Friday night, and by playing good defense, I could help give them opportunities to keep scoring.”

Yale’s diverse offense has been thus highlighted by Kott’s fast start. Appleman identified the freshman as a key replacement for hitter Kelly Johnson ’16, an All-Ivy First Team selection all four seasons of her career. Kott, along with Rasmussen and Wirth, earned last week’s Ivy League Honor Roll, the fourth time in as many weeks that the freshman has received the honor. Kott’s 59 kills rank second on the team this season, and her 0.300 hitting percentage is also among the team leaders.

While Kott acknowledged her own improvement throughout her rookie season, she emphasized that the team is collectively working “exceptionally hard” to reach its full potential.

The Bulldogs, now on a three-game winning streak, will continue their Ivy League schedule on the road next weekend, facing Columbia on Friday night and Cornell on Saturday.