Fresh off notching its 22nd consecutive home win last week, the Yale volleyball team will look to maintain its dominance at John J. Lee Amphitheater this weekend, as it faces Penn and Princeton, two teams that have not come away from Yale’s gym with a win since 2009.
The Elis (7–3, 1–0 Ivy) face Penn (5–5, 0–1) on Friday night, followed by a Saturday afternoon match against Princeton (8–3, 1–0). The Tigers have won the last two Ivy titles, with the Bulldogs finishing just behind them in second place last season.
“Both [Penn and Princeton] are very talented and have a lot of depth, just as every other team in the league is,” outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 said. “Every weekend … is a new opportunity to get better for us, and we are looking to compete at a high level with these teams.”
Although the Elis did not drop a single set against Brown last weekend, head coach Erin Appleman hopes to see steadier and more aggressive play out of her team going forward. Appleman said her team’s desire to improve upon its performance against Brown has been evident in the players’ preparation for their matches this weekend.
“I think [our energy in practice] has been really good,” Appleman said. “It’s been a little humid and hot, and that [leads to] some really competitive practices because we’re kind of sweaty. The team has practiced really well so far this week, and they seem very focused on what they need to accomplish.”
Despite being a familiar foe to the Bulldogs, Penn will visit New Haven under the leadership of a new head coach, Katie Schumacher-Cawley. Previously, Schumacher-Cawley served as the head coach for the University of Illinois at Chicago for eight years. As a player, she won the NCAA Championship with Penn State in 1999, when Appleman was also with the program as an assistant coach.
After appearing in three nonconference tournaments before beginning Ivy League play, her Quaker squad captured victory in five of its nine matches before dropping its conference opener last Friday against Princeton.
This weekend, Yale will have to contend with a versatile Penn team looking to rebound from last Friday’s loss. The Quakers rank third in the Ivy League in digs, averaging 14.28 per set, and also have the Ancient Eight’s second-best hitting percentage of 0.230.
Over the course of nonconference play, Schumacher-Cawley was pleased with the effort her team displayed, as the team’s veterans helped newcomers get acclimated on the court. Rookie outside hitter Parker Jones leads the Quakers with 3.23 kills per game and has collected 29 more kills than senior Kendall Convington, who holds the team’s second-highest kill total.
“I think our upperclassmen have done a remarkable job with the younger kids. I think they are very supportive, helpful, and I think they take really good care of [them],” Schumacher-Cawley said. “Our work ethic has improved over the course of the season, and I think that our team commitment to wanting to be the best Penn team we can be right now is something that we’re constantly working on.”
On Saturday, the Bulldogs will face off against an even more formidable opponent in two-time reigning Ivy champion Princeton. Strong on both the offensive and defensive fronts, the Tigers average 13.51 kills and 15.02 digs per set, making them the second-ranked Ivy League team in both departments. Princeton won seven of its 10 preseason matches and kicked off its conference season with a straight-set victory over Penn last week.
In particular, Princeton will look to capitalize on its powerful offensive weapons against Yale. Outside hitter Natasha Skov and 6-foot-4-inch right-side hitter Maggie O’Connell lead the Tigers, averaging 3.61 and 3.49 kills per game, respectively. Skov has already reached 148 kills, putting her fifth in the Ivy League in points. Sophomore Jessie Harris, meanwhile, leads the conference in setting, averaging 12 assists per set. Bringing their explosive offense to New Haven, Princeton presents a formidable test for the Eli defense.
“The team is super pumped for this weekend,” middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 said. “I think we learned that every team in the Ivy League is good competition, so we have to focus each week about getting better, as well as focusing on the team we play on Friday and Saturday rather than looking too far ahead.”
Slow starts nearly sunk the Bulldogs against Brown last weekend. The team found itself playing from behind at the beginning of the second and third sets.
According to setter Franny Arnautou ’20, consistency throughout the match will be crucial for the team this weekend.
“I think we’re really excited that we started 1–0. It’s great to get a win, especially when we’re at home, but we’re also definitely really motivated to get better because I don’t feel like any of us really think that we played our best,” Arnautou said. “We … dipped a lot of times, and we want to avoid that.”
The match against Penn starts at 7 p.m. on Friday, and Saturday’s contest against Princeton starts at 5 p.m.
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