After its first conference loss of the season against Princeton, the Yale volleyball team is hungry to bounce back in Ivy League play. In a two-match slate this weekend that will cap off Yale’s five-game homestand, the Elis will host the Ancient Eight’s two cohorts from New York – Cornell and Columbia.
The Bulldogs (8–3, 2–1 Ivy) battled Penn (6–6, 1–2) and Princeton (10–3, 3–0) in two four-set contests at the John J. Lee Amphitheater last weekend. The Elis took care of business against a scrappy Penn team, but failed to overcome the depth of Princeton’s powerful attacking unit and disciplined backline, dropping a crucial conference game early in the Ivy season. Disappointed in the outcome of last Saturday’s match, Yale head coach Erin Appleman sees this weekend as an opportunity for redemption.“There’s a little bit of a fire in them, and [they’ve just been] trying to get back in the gym and be better,” Appleman said. “We’re definitely a more hungry team than we were a year ago, and we really want to win and be successful.”
For Columbia (5–7, 0–3), contests against Yale and Brown this weekend conclude a streak of five straight road matches. The first three did not go as planned for the Lions. After losing in four sets to Cornell, Columbia then faced off against Dartmouth and Harvard last weekend and was swept by both teams. History does not bode well for the Lions this weekend, as they have not defeated the Bulldogs in New Haven for the past 15 consecutive seasons.
As a result of their ongoing losing streak, the Lions currently sit at the bottom of the Ivy League standings alongside Brown. Still, the team is strong at the service line, ranking No. 1 in the League and No. 3 nationally at an average of 1.89 aces per set. With three players ranking in the Ivy League top-10 for service aces — setter Grace Campbell, middle blocker Kaitlyn Schultz and defensive specialist Kalie Wood — the Lions can put points away before a rally even starts. This weekend, the Bulldogs will need to step up their serve-receive, an area in which Yale has struggled this season.
When play does progress beyond the service line, Columbia wields some powerful offensive weapons. Star middle blocker Chichi Ikwuazom, who boasts an astonishing 0.397 hitting percentage, is the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year and a First Team All-Ivy selection last year.
“[Ikwuazom] is dominating hitting and blocking in the conference,” Appleman said. “They have some new freshmen that are also getting some playing time … They’re a really good team, and I know their record doesn’t show that, but I feel that they’re pretty good.”
On Saturday, the Bulldogs will face Cornell (5–7, 1–2), a team whose record, according to Appleman, is also not reflective of its impressive skillset. After defeating Columbia in its first match of conference play, the Big Red dropped two highly competitive games at Harvard and Dartmouth last weekend. Cornell will travel to Providence on Friday to face Brown, the Ivy League’s lowest ranked team, before coming to New Haven.
The Big Red boasts one of the Ancient Eight’s top middle blockers — Jenna Phelps — a sophomore out of Bucyrus, Kansas, who currently sits atop the Ivy League standings averaging 1.34 blocks per set. Her consistency and dominance at the net is reflected in a stellar 0.312 hitting percentage. Senior right side hitter Kit McCarty joins Phelps to make up the core of Cornell’s attack, and is ranked seventh in the Ivy League in kills, averaging 2.73 per set. The Bulldogs will also have to handle the Big Red’s steady defensive unit, a group that possesses the conference’s leader in digs — senior libero Kiley McPeek. The veteran is averaging 4.73 digs per set.
Despite her team’s meager ranking in the Ivy League, Cornell’s head coach Tracy Vande Berg has confidence in the chemistry between the veteran players and the four rookies on her team. Noting that the newcomers have “seamlessly become a part of the family,” she hopes to see her squad capitalize on their strong team dynamic moving forward.
“I would love to see us put two good matches together with intensity and focus throughout [this weekend],” Vande Berg said. “Volleyball isn’t a perfect game so learning as we play will be big for us.”
Two wins this weekend will be key if the Elis hope to remain in contention for the Ivy League title. Though it is still early in the season, dropping a second conference contest would make chasing Princeton difficult. But the Bulldogs remain positive heading into the weekend.
“Energy in the gym has been great,” setter Franny Arnautou ’20 said. “Everyone has come in focused and with good attitudes. I think we all need to focus on doing our jobs really well and knowing the parameters of those jobs. Trying to do more than we are responsible for can become messy. We need to trust each other and ourselves, give max effort and I think we’ll find a lot of success.”
The match against Columbia starts at 7 p.m. on Friday, and Saturday’s contest against Cornell starts at 5 p.m. Both games will be hosted in the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
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