There was an undeniable buzz in the historic John J. Lee Amphitheater on Friday night. Not only did Handsome Dan make an appearance on the eve of his first birthday, but University President Peter Salovey joined hundreds of eager supporters in the stands. Perhaps the fans knew they were in for a show. On home turf, the Yale women’s volleyball team rarely faces defeat.
In their conference opener, the Bulldogs (7–3, 1– 0 Ivy) took care of Brown (5–7, 0–1 Ivy) in straight sets, extending their home winning streak to 22 games. Despite falling behind early in of each of the three sets, the Elis fought back to defeat the Bears by 25–22, 25–16 and 25–23 scorelines. Although Yale associate head coach Kevin Laseau was pleased to see the Bulldogs open Ivy League play with a victory, he characterized the team’s effort as “uneven.”
“We’ve been doing a lot better stuff in [practice],” Laseau said. “We did better against the No. 2 team in the nation and the No. 18 team in the nation. We did some good things, but it was very spotty. I’m happy that we won, obviously, but it doesn’t get any easier from here. I just thought that we would be a little steadier.”
The first set proved shaky for the Elis, as defensive miscues and hitting errors put Yale in an uneasy position. Trailing the Bears at 13–19, the Bulldogs found themselves desperate for a shift in momentum, looking to maximize their opportunities to rally and make up ground. After Brown junior middle blocker Courtney Palm failed to connect on an attacking attempt, the ball was turned over to outside hitter Kaitlyn Gibbons ’18, tasked with serving for the Bulldogs in crunch time. Gibbons’ consistency and confidence sparked an essential turning point in the first set for the Elis, as she led Yale on a four-point run.
Following some back-and-forth play late in the set, the Elis capitalized on their offensive versatility and veteran leadership, which carried them to a first-set victory. Veteran stalwarts Gibbons, middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20, outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 and outside hitter Gray Malias ’19 each notched a kill in a five-point run to finish off the Bears in the opening frame.
“Honestly, at the beginning of the sets, we came out a little bit off our game,” outside hitter Kathryn Attar ’21 said. “But as soon as our coach told us: ‘Bring it together, be Yale,’ then we remembered [that] this is our house, we don’t have a problem with this and we’re going to be fine as long as we’re confident and go for it.”
After another strong start for Brown in the second set, Yale fell behind again, this time 12–6. However, the Elis rebounded quickly, regaining the lead and refusing to turn back. As the set played out, Brown lacked the offensive power necessary to slow the Bulldogs’ resurgence, as Yale continued to stretch its lead. Although Brown junior outside hitter Sabrina Stillwell was reliable for the Bears, converting on six of 15 hitting attempts, her team’s overall hitting rate of 15 percent reflected its offensive woes.
For its 25–16 second set victory, Yale turned to Wirth, the team’s most reliable offensive contributor, for critical points that maintained the Bulldogs’ control of the set. Notching five kills in the second set, and finishing with 13 kills in the match, Wirth demonstrated her prowess as one of the Ancient Eight’s top players. According to head coach Erin Appleman, Wirth’s performance displayed uncharacteristic inconsistency, as she made seven hitting errors in her 26 attempts.
“[Kelley] was good, but she was a little tentative in my viewpoint,” Appleman said. “She did get her kill numbers, but she made a little too many errors. But Brown is a good team, and they are going to make you do things that you wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable with.” The momentum in the Elis’ battle against Brown swung back and forth, and the third set of the match was no different. The Bears once again put early pressure on the Bulldogs, building up an 8–3 lead over the home team and prompting Appleman to call a timeout. After regrouping and refocusing, Yale stormed back with a run of its own, gaining a commanding 17–11 lead. But Brown’s scrappy play brought them back into the game, and the Bears ultimately climbed back to tie the Bulldogs at 21–21. Refusing to let the match slip away, Yale bounced back to slow Brown’s momentum, winning the set 25–23.
Middle blocker Shreya Dixit ’19 was especially powerful for the Elis in the third set, in her best performance of the season thus far. The San Jose, California native tallied six kills on just seven attempts, amounting to a near-perfect hitting rate of 87.5 percent. Despite playing in just three matches this season before the Brown contest, Dixit displayed discipline and confidence on the court, which her coaches attributed to her performance in practices leading up to the match.
“Shreya was awesome, and she did such a good job. That’s why we love Shreya… she’s steady and hardly makes any errors,” Laseau said. “She comes in and knows what her responsibilities are and does her job.”
Although the Elis did not play to their potential against Brown, they still notched an important conference victory. The Bulldogs will continue Ivy League play this weekend, facing Penn and Princeton. The Tigers currently sit atop the Ivy League standings.
Yale will play the Quakers at 7 p.m. on Friday, followed by a 5 p.m. match on Saturday against Princeton.
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