In the span of 24 hours, a pair of shocking defeats for league leaders Princeton resurrected the Yale volleyball team’s title hopes, putting the Bulldogs in the driver’s seat in the race for the Ancient Eight title.

The Tigers (12–5, 5–2 Ivy) had been coasting to a third-consecutive league title, only to take their eye off the ball against a pair of lesser lights in Cornell and Columbia — both of whom Yale (12–4, 6–1) defeated last weekend.

The Elis’ ruthless weekend provided a stark contrast to the toothless Tigers, as the Bulldogs handled the pressure of their road matches with confidence and tenacity, finishing off Dartmouth (7–9, 3–4) in straight sets, and claiming a 3–1 victory over Harvard (10–6, 5–2). After the dominant weekend, Yale took sole ownership of first place in the Ivy League standings midway through the conference season.

“It’s a nice feeling today … but at the same time, it doesn’t change anything that we do,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “There’s still so much volleyball to be played, and while it’s nice to be where we’re at, [we] still have to go out and play regardless.”

In the early stages of their first match of the weekend, the Bulldogs battled closely with the Big Green. With Yale leading 13–11 in the opening frame, middle blocker Chiara Spain ’21 responded with a critical kill that initiated a scoring tear for the Elis and left Dartmouth struggling to respond. Combined with an array of unforced errors committed by the hosts, multiple Bulldogs registered kills to extend Yale’s lead and secure a commanding 25–16 victory in the opening set. Outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 tallied four kills for the Elis in the first frame, contributing to the junior’s 10-kill night.

Eager to carry their momentum forward in the second set, the Elis jumped out to an early 5–2 lead to begin the frame. However, as the set played out, Dartmouth’s young roster refused to let the Bulldogs establish a commanding advantage — a testament to the resilience the Elis said before the match that they expected to see against Dartmouth. Big Green rookie outside hitter Elise Petit notched four kills in the second frame, and also added nine digs over the course of match. Petit’s teammate, rookie setter Tori Dozier, also demonstrated her versatility and promise for Dartmouth’s program, registering 24 assists and 13 digs on the match.

Despite the Big Green’s fight in the second frame, it ultimately could not overcome Yale’s depth and powerful attacking unit. Wirth and outside hitter Kaitlyn Gibbons ’18 each recorded two kills in the pivotal late phase of the set, with libero Kate Swanson ’19 serving an ace on match point to shut down Dartmouth’s threat and secure a 25–21 second-set victory for the Bulldogs.

Hungry to finish off the Big Green in straight sets, the Bulldogs hit the court for the third frame with consistent yet aggressive volleyball — launching an offensive tirade that gave Yale an early 10–3 lead. Kott was lights-out at the net for the Elis, recording six kills in the third frame to culminate her best performance of the year. She was also efficient, putting away 15 kills on just 23 attempts, which amounted to an outstanding 0.565 hitting percentage. Dartmouth hardly pushed back against Yale’s third-set effort, as the Elis captured their fifth conference victory by a dominant 25–14 scoreline.

“[Tristin] has just stayed with it,” Yale associate head coach Kevin Laseau said. “She works really hard and is always trying to get extra reps and extra work in. That’s the kind of stuff that pays off, and it sure did this weekend.”

Following Friday’s triumphant effort, the Bulldogs traveled to Cambridge to take on Harvard, concluding their first round of conference matches. From the early goings of the match, the competitive energy and offensive firepower of the rival squads were on full display. The first frame featured nine tied points, and at 17–17, the set seemed either team’s for the taking. However, on the following point Yale middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 picked up an ace — one of seven on the day — putting Yale ahead once more.

In the concluding stages of the set, Yale outside hitter Kathryn Attar ’21 and Spain each registered two kills, ultimately securing a 25–19 victory for the Bulldogs. Appearing in just her third conference match, Spain was reliable and efficient for the Elis, notching 6 kills on just 12 attempts. The rookie also converted an outstanding six blocks on the match.

“[Spain] had a great opportunity to play this weekend and really did some nice stuff,” Appleman said. “I was super impressed with her … I feel really fortunate to be really deep in many of the positions … [and] we are really deep in the middle, so many people can step in and do a great job.”

After the early stages of the second frame, Yale appeared set to cruise to another victory over the Crimson, as the team jumped out to an early 13–7 lead. But Harvard refused to go quietly and notched four straight points, fighting back to within two points of the Bulldogs. Although the Elis finally thwarted Harvard’s run on an attack by Kott — who notched another brilliant 12-kill performance on Saturday — the Crimson continued to place increasing pressure on its guests. Led by Harvard rookie outside hitter Mindie Mabry, the Crimson capitalized on its potent offensive unit and surged to a 25–22 victory over the Elis. Mabry registered five kills in the second frame, and added seven more on the match.

Despite dropping the second set, the Bulldogs remained mentally focused and composed in the following two frames. Taking advantage of stellar serving and consistent passing, the Elis exploited Harvard’s defensive miscues and put the ball in favorable positions for the setters, allowing them to run a smooth and productive offense. Setters Franny Arnautou ’20 and captain Kelsey Crawford ’18 secured 23 and 25 assists, respectively, against Harvard, involving many of Yale’s hitters from all areas at the net. Attar notched an impressive 14 kills against the Crimson, with Wirth and outside hitter Megan Rasmussen ’18 each adding seven and nine kills. Ultimately, the Bulldogs hindered Harvard’s charge in both the last two frames, winning the remaining sets 25–19 and 25–20.

“While the team is very ecstatic about our performance this weekend, we are also hungrier than ever. This weekend really gave us a glimpse into the incredible potential that this team has,” Kott said. “We just want to better the ball on the Yale side of the court, and as long as we maintain the same work ethic and focus that we have in this past week, we should not have a problem doing that.”

Now top of the Ivy League, the Elis will face off on Friday against Brown, a team they’ve already defeated this season. The contest in Providence will begin at 7 p.m. at the Pizzitola Sports Center.

Ellen Margaret Andrews | ellenmargaret.andrews@yale.edu

Ruiyan Wang | ruiyan.wang@yale.edu