For the fourth straight weekend, the surging Yale volleyball team will take to the road, looking to erase the memories of last year’s 2–5 away record in Ivy League play as it faces two improved conference foes in Columbia and Cornell.
Off to their best start since 2009 and hoping to extend a three-game winning streak, the Bulldogs (8–2, 1–0 Ivy) will first battle the Lions (6–5, 1–0), who pulled off a five-set upset against Yale last year for the team’s first time over Yale since 2001 and just the fourth time in program history. On Saturday, the Elis will travel north to face the Big Red (5–5, 0–1 Ivy), who finished at the bottom of the Ivy League the past three seasons but has made progress this year, according Yale head coach Erin Appleman.
“Both teams have legitimate shots of winning the conference championship,” Appleman said. “We need to be prepared to play long matches on the road.”
Yale has dropped just nine sets over 10 total matches and has played the fewest number of sets of all Ivy League teams. After finishing third in the conference last year, the team is poised to contend for its sixth Ivy League championship in seven years.
Led by libero Kate Swanson ’19 and outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17 — the only Ivy duo to average at least 3.5 digs per set — the Bulldogs have played efficiently, posting a 0.235 hitting percentage that ranks second in the conference. Serving has emerged as a strength of the team, as the Bulldogs lead the Ivy League with 1.52 service aces per set.
In regard to the Bulldogs’ subpar road record last season, Appleman said the team suffered key injuries last year that coincided with road trips, adding that she is not changing anything significantly in terms of the team’s approach besides hoping that the players stay healthy.
While Yale ultimately triumphed over Columbia in four close sets in New Haven last year — outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 had 11 kills and 15 digs in a four-set victory — it faced a tougher task on the road. The Lions cruised in the first set, 25–9, and put Yale on the brink of a quick defeat with a second-set victory. The Elis dug in, though, and won the next two sets to draw even. In the deciding fifth set, Columbia won seven of the first 10 points and triumphed, 15–12. It was the first time in 27 games against Yale that the Lions could celebrate a victory.
“I think after any loss it’s natural to want to beat a team even more than before,” Swanson said. “We want to go in and win every match level-headed, and Columbia is no different.”
Two Columbia standouts who posted double-doubles last year have since graduated, but Anja Malesevic, who notched 15 kills in the game, will figure prominently in Columbia’s effort to repeat its success. Malesevic leads the team with 80 kills and is tied with Grace Campbell with a team-best 10 service aces. Campbell was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week on Monday following her 53-assist effort against Cornell last weekend.
The Bulldogs return a number of key contributors from last season’s battle against the Lions. Wirth (15 kills and 15 digs), outside hitter Megan Rasmussen ’18 (11 kills and 7 digs) and Swanson (26 digs) helped bring Yale to the cusp of an impressive comeback and will aim to lead the team to its fourth straight win. Wirth has played in only 19 of 33 sets this season as she continues to recover from an injury.
After the matchup at Columbia, the team will trek to Cornell for a game on Saturday — and based on last season, it could be a long night. Yale ultimately staved off the Big Red in two five-set matches, but it was by no means easy. The Elis came back from two sets down to win the next three when the teams met in New Haven, with Wirth recording six kills in the fifth set alone.
Cornell is hitting 0.233, ranking third in the conference in that category, just behind the Bulldogs’ 0.235, and has been led by outside hitter Carla Sganderlla, who was named to the Ivy League Honor Roll this week. Sganderlla had a huge game when Yale visited last season, pairing 20 kills with 18 digs. The sophomore leads the team in service aces and is second in both kills and digs.
Swanson and Rasmussen both said the team’s mindset would not change due to the road trip. Rasmussen emphasized the importance of the focusing on one point and one game at a time.
“Our mindset never really changes when we’re on the road,” Rasmussen said. “Every game is an opportunity for us to get better and have fun so it doesn’t matter if we’re on the road or in the comfort of PWG.”
Yale’s two opponents faced off against each other last weekend at Columbia, with the home team winning in a tense five-set match. The Lions lost the first two sets and faced three match points but ultimately pulled off a comeback in both teams’ Ivy League opener. With the win, Columbia’s fourth in a row, the team extended its longest winning streak since 2012.
Appleman said she has been shuffling her lineup throughout the week. She did not comment on the status of libero Tori Shepherd ’17, the team captain, who missed much of last season with a wrist injury and has not yet played this year.
As the Bulldogs seek to return to the Ivy League throne, avoiding mistakes will be imperative. With only 157 errors, the team has currently committed the fewest in the conference, 16 fewer than second-place Columbia.