Following a commanding sweep of Penn on Friday, the Yale volleyball team looked poised to dethrone undefeated Princeton the following afternoon. But the Tigers’ blocking and potent offense stymied the Bulldogs, handling Yale in straight sets and severing the Bulldogs’ four-game win streak.
The Elis (12–4, 5–2 Ivy) used a balanced offense and impressive all-around play from outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17 to dismantle the Quakers (8–11, 3–4) in Philadelphia, but came out flat the following evening. Princeton (13–3, 7–0) turned its advantage at the net into an overpowering attack for which the Bulldogs had no answer. At the halfway point of the Ivy League season, the Elis are tied with Columbia in second place and trail the Tigers for the top spot.
“I was certainly disappointed in our match play on Saturday,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “I thought we could’ve come out a little stronger [and] been a little more confident. We had everything we wanted. We played well against Penn on Friday night, and I just thought we would continue that through Saturday’s play.”
At the Palestra, Yale and Penn traded points in the early going, and the scrappy Quakers built an 18–15 lead to force a Yale timeout in the first set. The break awoke the dormant Bulldogs, who subsequently powered to a 10–1 onslaught while riding the serve of middle blocker Shreya Dixit ’19. Outside hitter Tristin Kott ’20, who finished the match with seven kills, added a block and a kill to close out the first-set victory.
The Bulldogs stayed hot in the second frame. Though the Quakers overcame an early 5–0 deficit, closing the score to 14–13, Yale broke away on a torrid 9–2 stretch. The Elis’ run included back-to-back double blocks from Dixit and Steinberg that carried the team to a 25–18 victory.
“I think our team was really in sync during the match [against Penn],” Steinberg said. “We all clearly knew our roles and what we had to accomplish in order to win, and we executed well.”
With the third set knotted at nine, Yale once again pulled away. As part of the Bulldogs’ alternative lineup, setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 served as a defensive specialist in the back row while setter Franny Arnautou ’20 handled the second ball at the net. With Yale leading 15–12, Crawford lunged off the court to save a ball that had deflected off a diving Dixit. The pair’s efforts were rewarded when Steinberg rebuffed a Penn attack at the net, and Yale conceded just four more points to conclude the match sweep.
Steinberg finished with nine kills, 16 digs, four block assists, one solo stuff and four service aces.
“She didn’t do anything out of the ordinary in my opinion,” Appleman said. “It’s something that we expect from her: to play at that kind of high level. The team [relies] on her leadership and what she’s bringing to the table.”
While the Bulldogs fired on all cylinders against Penn, Yale lacked the same sharpness at Princeton. The Elis opened the match with a service error and fell victim to a service ace in the second point. Trailing 9–5 following a kill from the 2015 Ivy League Player of the Year, outside hitter Cara Mattaliano, Appleman and the Bulldogs were forced to call an early timeout. Yale fought back to a 15–14 deficit, but the Tigers surged to a 10–3 run to clinch the first set.
The full range of imposing Princeton hitters — Mattaliano had 10 kills, Brittany Ptak ran an impressive slide attack and Maggie O’Connell torched the Bulldogs throughout the match — carried the team on its first-set scoring frenzy. O’Connell notched two of her 13 kills in consecutive points to close out the frame.
“[Princeton is] very aggressive, [and] they have a lot of hitters to get involved in the game,” Appleman said. “O’Connell had a really good match, and we struggled to stop her.”
A smash from Dixit, an errors from the Tigers and an ace from Arnautou gave the Bulldogs a 5–1 advantage to start the second set, one of only two times they led in the entire match. But Yale faltered while clinging to its 7–4 lead as Ptak slammed two points home to bring Princeton back. The senior’s twin kills sparked a 14–4 Tigers run marked by seven total Yale errors. The Elis hit negative 0.108 in the frame, marking just the second set in conference play that they have recorded a negative hitting percentage.
The third set unfolded in similar fashion as the first two. The Tigers overtook the Bulldogs when freshman Devon Peterkin’s cross-court kill deflected off of Dixit to make it 5–4, and from there led by as much as seven en route to a 25–19 triumph.
Four different Princeton players had three block assists, including setter Jessica Harris, who used her court awareness to deftly send over four kills alongside her 33 assists. The Tigers outperformed Yale in almost every statistical category, cruising to their 14th straight regular-season conference win.
“We didn’t play as good as we really are, which is frustrating,” Yale captain and libero Tori Shepherd ’17 said. “When we play [Princeton] next, we need to be consistent throughout the whole match as a team. We know we can match that intensity.”
The Bulldogs will try to erase memories of the rout when they return home to play Brown on Friday, their only matchup this week and the first of five consecutive home conference matches. Yale swept the Bears in Providence on Sept. 23 to start the Ancient Eight season.