It is said that all good things must come to an end. Spanning nearly three seasons, and 23 matches, Yale’s home win streak was finally thwarted by the Ancient Eight’s top-ranked Princeton Tigers on Saturday, just a day after the Elis beat Penn.
After a straight-set victory over Brown last week, the Bulldogs (8–4, 2–1 Ivy) looked to carry their momentum forward in their first conference back-to-back matches against Penn (6–6, 1-2 Ivy) and Princeton (10–3, 3–0 Ivy). Facing a competitive Penn team on Friday, the Elis finished off the Quakers in a four-set battle, to notch their fourth straight win. Saturday’s contest was a long-awaited rematch between the Ivy League’s top two squads in the 2016 season, and the intensity in John J. Lee Amphitheater was palpable. After losing the first set, the Tigers turned around to capture victory in the following three sets, remaining undefeated in Ivy League play.
“Although we are disappointed with the outcome of this weekend, we are taking it as a learning experience to improve and get better so we can win in the future,” outside hitter Katelyn Gibbons ’18 said. “We are going to work hard in practice this week and take advantage of every rep.”
The Elis entered their match against Penn eager to compete. In the opening frame of the set, many of Yale’s hard-hitting offensive weapons registered early kills, leading the Bulldogs to pull ahead 9–4. After a Penn timeout, the Quakers managed to respond with a three-point run of their own, taking advantage of some of Yale’s unforced errors to cut the Bulldogs’ lead. But the Elis refused to let the set slip away, relying on their offensive prowess and the backbone of their defense — libero Kate Swanson ’19 — to establish a commanding 16–8 lead. Swanson notched a whopping 19 digs against Penn. For the rest of the first set, Yale’s play remained steady yet aggressive, as the team cruised to a 25–15 victory.
In the second set of the match, the Quakers hit the court hungry for a better showing than its first-set performance. Penn rookie outside hitter Parker Jones helped keep her team within striking distance of the Bulldogs during the second frame, providing dependable play for her team on both sides of the ball. Jones led the Quakers offensively with 12 kills on the match and added six digs in the contest, as well. Despite her efforts, the Bulldogs managed to secure a 25–22 second-frame victory on a serving error by Penn senior libero Emily Friedler.
Undeterred by the results of the opening two sets, the Quakers’ resilient spirit did not wane as they entered play in the third frame. Uncharacteristic offensive errors and Penn’s scrappy play kept Yale from gaining momentum, and the Elis quickly found themselves seeing the set get away from them. Although the set remained close in the final stages of play, Penn sealed a 25–23 win on a hitting error by outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19. With Penn threatening, the Bulldogs turned to outside hitters Kathryn Attar ’21 and Gray Malias ’19 for their offensive and defensive reliability and key plays. The Bulldogs won the final set by a 12-point margin, and both Attar and Malias finished with offensive career highs, notching 19 and 13 kills, respectively. Attar’s versatility has been a key component to the Elis’ depth as a team, and her coaches hope to see her develop even more consistency in her rookie campaign.
“When [Attar] is playing smart and doing what she can do, that’s what she’s capable of,” Yale associate head coach Kevin Laseau said of the outside hitter’s performance against Penn. “She just has to limit any unforced errors. But that’s what she can do. She had a great week of practice, so I was glad to see that transfer into [the match].”
On Saturday, the Bulldogs faced off against two-time reigning Ivy champion Princeton in one of their most anticipated matches of the season. In the first set, the Elis capitalized on early momentum and strong offense to defeat Princeton 25–23. Wirth finished the set with the winning kill, and she ultimately led Yale with a 0.275 hitting percentage for the game. Middle blocker Izzy Simqu also proved herself a powerful player throughout the match, notching nine kills and three blocks for the team. Meanwhile, Kate Swanson secured 25 digs, a season-high for the junior libero.
Both teams continued their competitive play throughout the second set, in which the Bulldogs narrowly lost by four points. Despite starting off strong, the Bulldogs grappled with shaky serve-receive as the game progressed. Princeton, on the other hand, benefitted from a strong and reliable backrow, with libero Maddie Huber ’18 notching 16 digs and defensive specialists Lauren Flaming ’21 and Kelly Matthews ’18 each earning 12 digs for the game.
By set three, however, Princeton’s offensive speed also picked up, leaving the Bulldogs struggling to keep up defensively. The Tigers had a collective 0.300 hitting percentage for the third set and a 0.324 hitting percentage for the final faceoff. In particular, outside hitter Natasha Skov collected 16 kills throughout the match, followed by middle blockers Caroline Sklaver and Ibe Nnena, who earned 0.320 and a 0.714 individual kill percentages for the game, respectively.
Yale dropped the final two sets 25–17 and 25–22 to fall to third in the Ivy League standings. Harvard and Princeton remain the only Ivy teams undefeated in conference.
“I thought we weren’t as dominant as we could have been,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “Princeton is obviously very good but we talk about being consistent all the time, and we just had some people that weren’t very consistent … I hope going forward we know that every match is an opportunity, and you can’t waste an opportunity.”
Yale will play Columbia on Friday at 7 p.m. and Cornell on Saturday at 5 p.m. Both games will be held in the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
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