Coming off an electric three-match sweep of the Yale Invitational, the Yale volleyball team tasted defeat for the first time this season at the UCSB Thunderdome Classic in Santa Barbara this weekend.
The Elis (4–2, 0–0 Ivy) maintained their winning streak in the early goings of the tournament, defeating a struggling University of California, Santa Barbara (0–8, 0–0 Big West) team to begin the weekend. However, the remaining matches proved to be significant tests for the Bulldogs, as they fell in three sets to both Arkansas (8–2, 0–0 Southeastern) and No. 19 University of Southern California (7–2, 0–0 Pac-12).
Despite the blemishes to her team’s undefeated record, head coach Erin Appleman said she was not discouraged by the results of the weekend, as facing adversity will help her team develop resilience upon entering Ivy play in just two weeks.
“We learned that we can compete at a high level,” Appleman said. “We were a couple swings away from closing out one of those sets [against USC]. I think some of our players realized that if they just go for it, good things can happen. … Even though our record was 1–2, I thought we got a lot more confident as a team.”
Yale’s 10 a.m. contest with Santa Barbara on Friday was thrilling from beginning to end. The Bulldogs showed no signs of fatigue in the first set, surging to a 15–8 advantage on the strength of two kills and two block assists from middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20. The Gauchos fought back to a 19–19 draw, at which point setter Franny Arnautou ’20 keyed a five-point run on her serve to give her team match point at 24–19. The host school once again narrowed the gap, pushing Yale to the limit before falling by a 25–23 scoreline.
This back-and-forth tension duplicated itself in the second frame, as outside hitter Gray Malias ’19 helped erase UCSB’s 17–11 lead with a scoring surge. Locked at 17–17, the two teams tied six more times before the Elis escaped with a 26–24 triumph.
Santa Barbara still refused to cede the match to the visitors, undoing a seven-point Yale advantage in the third set and later saving match point to push the contest to a fourth frame, which the Bulldogs closed out 25–23.
“I think our team fought hard,” libero Kate Swanson ’19 said. “If a team got a big kill, we came back with a next point focus mentality, that is crucial when playing against big hitters.”
The 3–1 win showcased the impressive depth of the Bulldogs’ roster. In addition to Simqu’s 11 kills and other-worldly 0.562 hitting percentage, outside hitters Kathryn Attar ’21 and Kelley Wirth ’19 and middle blocker Destiny Daniel ’21 all notched double-digit kill totals. Each member of this balanced quartet also collected three or four block assists apiece.
By contrast, a singular talent powered UCSB all morning. Outside hitter Lindsey Ruddins bolstered her reputation as one of the top hitters in the country with a 29-kill performance. Her 72 attempts on the match were 38 more than the Elis’ most prolific attacker, and her Friday performance propelled her to eighth on the national leaderboard in kills per set.
“Ruddins had an unbelievable game against us,” Appleman said. “There are some things you just can’t do against that type of power — but we were able to find other ways to win, which I thought was really good for our team.”
Approximately four hours later, the Bulldogs returned to the court to defend their unbeaten record against Arkansas. They continued to demonstrate resilience in a marathon first frame, rallying to transform an early 10–6 deficit into an 18–14 lead.
Assisted by Arnautou, Attar struck a kill to stretch her team’s lead to 24–21, but Razorback outside hitter Pilar Victoria — who leads the nation with 6.71 kills per set — put the team on her back with three straight strikes to tie the hectic set at 24 apiece. The two teams tied seven more times, and Yale squandered four more match points before Arkansas finally seized a 33–31 victory.
“Both Arkansas and USC had some great players, including All-Americans, who are much bigger and physical than what we face in the Ivy League,” Wirth said. “I think we did a great job at targeting these players and getting crucial stops on them from serving tough at them and blocking them. We dealt with the challenge and used it to get better and prepare for the future.”
This setback seemed to deflate the Elis, who dropped two successive sets without putting up significant resistance. Outside hitter Tristin Kott ’20 keyed Yale with a mistake-free 12 kills in the loss, and Wirth notched yet another double-digit kill performance.
Yale’s final match of the weekend proved to be no easier than Friday night’s bout against the Razorbacks, as the Elis took on the No. 19 Trojans. The Bulldogs remained competitive with USC in the opening set, but still never attained a lead over the Southern California squad. After a clutch kill by Wirth put Yale behind just 19–22 in a key moment towards the end of the set, the Trojans shut down the Bulldogs, notching three straight points to seal the victory.
USC’s momentum did not falter in the subsequent sets; outside hitter Alyse Ford’s stellar 0.562 hitting percentage served as the crucial element to the Trojan’s offensive command throughout the match. After falling by a score of 21–25 in the second set, Yale’s usual high-powered offense went quiet, putting up just 12 points in the final frame. The lackluster third set capped a season-low team hitting percentage for the Bulldogs, who converted just 28 of their 95 swings into points.
“We played really well as a team against Santa Barbara, and we also played aggressive against USC,” captain and setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 said. “We didn’t let their big block or powerful hitters intimidate us; we stayed confident in our abilities and really went after it. I thought we started off strong in most games — now we need to improve on finishing strong as well.”
Yale will next travel to the Penn State Classic this weekend, kicking off play against the No. 3 Nittany Lions at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Contact Steven Rome at firstname.lastname@example.org and Ellen Margaret Andrews at email@example.com .