The Yale volleyball team took another step closer to reclaiming the Ivy League crown with a dominant 3–1 victory over a moribund Brown squad last Friday night.
After defeating Dartmouth and Harvard last weekend in its first conference away games, the Bulldogs (13–4, 7–1) notched their fifth consecutive victory on Friday against Brown (6–13, 1–7). Despite dropping the first set to the Bears, the Elis turned the game around to ultimately capture victory, as they opened the second half of the season. With sole possession of first place in the Ivy League standings, Yale will look to maintain its perch throughout the remainder of conference play.
“While we are very excited to be in such a good position, we also know that we now have to work twice as hard to maintain it,” outside hitter Tristin Kott ’20 said. “We know that every practice, every game, counts for something so much bigger than us, and it is a challenge that this team is more than willing to take.”
In the first set, Yale struggled to put up competitive swings and services, with ten unforced errors leaving the Bulldogs consistently behind. After a setting error, followed by two attacking miscues, the Elis trailed behind Brown at 7–15, an eight-point deficit from which they never recovered. On the opposite side of the net, Brown’s outside hitter Sabrina Stillwell converted fourteen kills, with four of those coming in the first frame. Ultimately, the Bulldogs lost the set 20–25, hindered by a 0.179 collective hitting percentage.
The second set proved an even more competitive contest than the first, as the Elis barely secured the frame with the slim margin of 25–23. Outside hitter Kaitlyn Gibbons ’18 set the tone for the set with an early kill, followed by her teammates Tristin Kott ’20 and Kathryn Attar ’21. Pulling to an initial 11–7 lead, the Bulldogs benefitted from their renewed offensive prowess. Kott led team with 11 kills, registering a 0.455 hitting percentage for the game. Gibbons and middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 also recorded strong numbers, with the former hitting at 0.308 and the latter at 0.385.
The Bears refused to let their momentum from the first frame go without a fight. Freshman right side hitter Eliza Grover upheld the Bears’ aggressive attacking, contributing four kills in the second set. Demonstrating its tenacity and capitalizing on Yale’s seven unforced errors in the frame, Brown tied the score at 16–16 and later captured the lead at 20–18. With several unforced errors in the last few points of the game on both sides of the net — both squads had two service errors each in the last six points — Yale secured the set with two winning kills from Kott and Attar.
By the second half of the game, the Bulldogs’ characteristic firepower in the front row was back in full swing. Yale attained a 0.444 and 0.440 hitting percentage in the third and fourth sets respectively. Winning by over ten points in each frame, 25–12 in the third and 21–11 in the fourth, the Elis also put up strong defensive fronts, with consistent digs in the backrow and spectacular blocks at the net.
“We were really hesitant early on, and then we just started to play better.” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “We settled down, made some adjustments to the lineups, we simplified things, and it just started to work a lot better.”
With back-to-back blocks in the third frame, both Kott and Simqu registered six block assists for the entire match, a season-high for the team. Taken aback by the quick 13–7 lead the Bulldogs established in the first half of the third set, the Bears faltered at its offense and at the service line, totaling nine unforced errors for the set.
Taking advantage of Brown’s shaky play, Yale went on to maintain the lead by a healthy margin for the rest of the frame, finishing the set with a four-point run, including an ace by Gray Malias ’19 and three kills.
“[Our offense] started off a little slow [in the first set], and we weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be,” Yale associate head coach Kevin Laseau said. “But I think the setters did a better job as the match went on [putting] the hitters in better positions.… As the match progressed, everything just smoothed out a little bit.”
Emboldened by its strong showing in the third frame, the Elis once again opened the fourth set with a strong lead at 10–2. The Bulldogs’ formidable blocking units registered three blocks in the first ten points. From then on, Yale stayed at least eight points ahead of Brown, in large part because of its defensive line.
In the back row, libero Yurika Boyd ’21 contributed 27 digs while playing in place of libero Kate Swanson ’19, who missed the game. Faced with such strong blocking and digging regiments, the Bears floundered offensively, totaling a 0.000 hitting percentage in the last set with 9 kills and 9 errors on 35 attempts. “What a phenomenal job [Yurika] did,” Laseau said. “She’s got ice water in her veins right now. It was tremendous … she had maybe one hiccup at the beginning of the match but after that it was as if she had been playing [libero] all year … I was just super impressed with what she did and how she handled herself.”
Besides Boyd, two other Bulldogs also registered double-digit digs: Gibbons notched 12, and setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 recorded 16. Crawford not only proved herself competitive in the back row but also contributed 24 assists for the match, earning a double-double. The Elis dominated the last set, even leading by 21–5 at one point, before shutting down a feeble five-point comeback by the Bears with the winning kill by Kott.
The Bulldogs last won the Ivy League in 2014.
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