After three straight weeks of conference play on its home court, the Yale volleyball team will finally hit the road for its first matches against Dartmouth and Harvard this weekend.
The Bulldogs (10–4, 4–1) enter their road trip after a five-game homestand in which they captured critical victories against four conference opponents, dropping just one match against Princeton –– the top ranked team in the Ivy League. On Friday, the Elis will head to Hanover to face Dartmouth (6–8, 2–3), a team Yale has defeated in the last three contests between the two programs.
Afterward, the Bulldogs will immediately head to Cambridge to take on Harvard (9-5, 4-1). With these important road games ahead, Yale head coach Erin Appleman is looking forward to seeing her team contend with new challenges and build off its hard work in practice.
“The energy has been really good [this week],” Appleman said. “We’ve been a really good practice team this year, and I think we’re really competing hard every day. This week we’ve been working on playing a little bit more clean and crisp volleyball.”
In its first match of the weekend, Yale will face a Dartmouth team that, much like the Bulldogs, has dominated at home. Despite struggling considerably on the road –– having lost seven of nine away matches this season –– the Big Green has a near perfect 4–1 home record.
Although the Bulldogs possess attacking weapons that have made them a threat at the net this season, Dartmouth has also proven itself capable of consistently thwarting robust opposing attackers. The Big Green leads the Ivy League in opponent hitting percentage, restricting its competition to a meager 0.185 average. Dartmouth’s defensive prowess is perhaps most significantly evident in its talented blocking regiment: The Big Green’s 2.48 blocks per set leads the conference.
Dartmouth middle blocker Carly Tower is the centerpiece of the Big Green’s rock-solid blocking unit, and is currently ranked third in the Ivy League in blocks per set with 1.17. The Bulldogs will also have to strategize their attack with Dartmouth libero and defensive specialist Lauren Douglas in mind, as the California native is averaging more than three digs per game, the sixth-best average in the conference.
Despite its impressive defensive figures, the Big Green has struggled to find a steady offensive rhythm. Although senior outside hitter Sara Lindquist retains an average of 2.33 kills per set, the veteran is the only member of Dartmouth’s roster to possess a hitting percentage upward of two kills per set. The Big Green’s offensive woes are further reflected in its failure to consistently convert attacking opportunities into points. Dartmouth ranks last in the Ivy League in assists, averaging just 9.37 per set.
Even with those setbacks, Dartmouth’s young players have already made a significant impact on the team –– four of the program’s seven rookies have appeared in all 14 matches this season, and all seven have played in at least nine matches. According to Yale associate head coach Kevin Laseau, lack of experience does not amount to a dearth of energy and grit, though, and he hopes his team can match the competitiveness and excitement that Dartmouth’s younger players will bring to the game.
“[They have] a second-year coach, and teams with coaches new to their job usually have a lot of energy, and there’s a lot of optimism,” Laseau said. “They play a lot of younger players and that adds to that energy. That’s one of the most difficult things to combat –– being ready for their resiliency.”
While securing victories in both matches will be crucial for Yale in maintaining its position as one of the top contenders for the Ivy League title, the Elis’ game against Harvard will be one of their most significant of the season. Although the No. 2 Bulldogs rank ahead of the third-place Crimson in Ivy League standings — due to their superior overall record — both teams boast 4–1 conference records. Harvard’s only conference defeat was against Princeton as well.
On Saturday, the Elis will grapple with a team much like its own, not only in statistical terms but also in terms of strengths. Harvard is a solid offensive squad with aggressive outside hitters and middle blockers too. Leading the Ivy League with its hitting percentage at 0.253, the Crimson narrowly beats out Yale’s 0.235 collective hitting percentage. As a team, the Bulldogs average 13.49 kills per set, with Harvard closely trailing this value at 12.32 kills per set.
Harvard outside hitter Grace Roberts Burbank leads the Crimson with an average of 2.68 kills per set, coming off of a 20-kill game against Penn last weekend. The Elis will need to capitalize on their own power hitters — Kelley Wirth ’19, who leads the Bulldogs with an average of 3.36 kills per set, and Kathryn Attar ’21, who is the two-week reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Week. During the contest against Cornell last weekend, Attar registered a 0.371 hitting percentage, consistently delivering hard swings even under pressure.
Ranking fifth in the Ivy League, Harvard middle blocker Maclaine Fields boasts a 0.350 hitting percentage, and has registered attack percentages of at least 0.300 for 10 of 14 games this season. Teammate Jocelyn Meyer, also a middle blocker, trails Fields by only four kills, at 109 this season. Their Yale counterpart, fellow middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20, is ranked third in the Ivy league at a 0.392 attacking percentage. Simqu, too, had triumphant showings against Columbia and Cornell this past weekend, attaining two career-bests. Against the Lions, Simqu registered a career-high of six blocks; against Cornell, she garnered a career-high 13 kills. This Monday, Simqu was named to the Ivy League Honor Roll.
“Their two middles are really, really talented,” Appleman said. “They have good setters that deliver the ball very well … they’re just a really good, steady team. They don’t make a lot of errors, they’re big at the net and do a lot of good things.”
Beyond the faceoff between strong offensive players this weekend, the Bulldogs will have to adjust to playing away games, having only hosted conference matches at John J. Lee Amphitheater thus far. The Elis have only played two games in front of an opponent’s home crowd this season, and the Harvard team has not lost a home game since Sept. 2. Yale is looking to continue its focus and high energy in new environments without the support of its fans.
“It is important to be mentally focused and determined being on the road, because we will be challenged not only by the opposing teams but also the opposing fans,” setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 said. “It is important not to let any distractions stray our focus away from the game at hand.”
Yale’s match in Hanover against Dartmouth starts at 7 p.m. Friday in the Leede Arena. The following day, the Bulldogs play Harvard in the Malkin Athletic Center at 5 p.m.
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