When the Yale volleyball team first faced off against Princeton this season, the Tigers ended the Bulldogs’ 22 home-game winning streak. The Elis returned the favor on Friday, ending Princeton’s 16 conference home-game winning streak with a decisive three-set win. However, Penn also redeemed itself this weekend, defeating Yale for the first time in 13 contests. In Yale’s first five-set match of the season, the Quakers took away the Elis’ short-lived two-game advantage in Ivy standings.
Yale emerged from this weekend still with sole possession of first place in the conference, after a deeply gratifying victory and an equally disappointing defeat. Yet, even with the loss, the Elis feel confident in their ability to rebound in their upcoming weekend slate against Harvard and Dartmouth.
“Coming off of this weekend, we will need to be focused but also confident,” middle blocker Chiara Spain ’21 said. “We are our best when we let our competitiveness take over, so that will be the mentality [going forward]. We have some important games coming up that we are excited for.”
Despite committing several offensive miscues in the early goings of their rematch against Princeton — which allowed the Tigers to jump out to a 6–2 advantage — the Bulldogs quickly settled into a rhythm and overcame the early deficit. However, after middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 notched a kill to even the score at 10–10, the Tigers’ electric offensive unit showed off their depth as four Princeton attackers responded with kills to ultimately elevate it to a 15–11 lead.
The Elis were not fazed by Princeton’s swift response, and after Appleman called a timeout to let her squad regroup, the Bulldogs’ offense was reinvigorated. Outside hitters Tristin Kott ’20 and Kathryn Attar ’21 each notched three critical kills in the frame that kept Yale from losing momentum, and soon the Bulldogs found themselves on the brink of victory with a 23–20 advantage. Despite conceding kills by Princeton middle blocker Maggie O’Connell and outside hitter Devon Peterkin in the following rallies, the Elis ultimately secured a 25–22 first-set victory on a bad set by the opposition.
“It was a very back-and-forth game,” head coach Erin Appleman commented of Friday’s match. “I’m not sure we played to our potential or Princeton played to its potential … But we were able to sustain some long runs with them and were able to put points on the board.”
Upon entering the second frame of the contest, the Bulldogs once again suffered from numerous uncharacteristic unforced errors, allowing the Tigers to establish an early 5–1 lead. Yet once again, the Elis were undeterred by Princeton’s early edge and reacted with a blistering run of their own to acquire a 14–9 advantage. Although the Tigers continued to fight to regain their early momentum, they trailed the Elis for the rest of the frame and fell to 21–25 in the second set.
From the start of the third frame, the Elis’ hunger to finish off the Tigers in straight sets was undeniable. Setter Franny Arnautou ’20 — who registered 22 assists on the day — ran a versatile offensive scheme, with six of Yale’s attackers tallying at least one kill in the frame. The performance by outside hitter Kaitlyn Gibbons ’18 was particularly effective for the Bulldogs, who secured three kills in the third set and notched season-high totals of 10 kills and 13 digs. Kott also had another superb offensive performance against Princeton, putting away 12 kills on just 24 attempts to account for a stellar 0.417 hitting percentage. Both Kott and Gibbons’ play helped the Bulldogs to build an overwhelming lead on the Tigers in the final frame, leading the Elis to ultimately capture their sixth-straight victory, defeating Princeton 25–15.
“We played very consistent on Friday, which allowed us to control the match from start to finish,” captain and setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 said. “We were excited and determined going into the match on Friday, wanting to prove to everyone we were in first place for a reason.”
The next day, the Ivy leader fell to the fifth-ranked Penn team in an unanticipated upset. The Bulldogs held their own in the first set, keeping the Quakers to a 0.047 hitting percentage in the frame. Yale maintained a substantial lead for the majority of the contest, even drawing ten points ahead at 20–10, until the Quakers capitalized on four kills, bringing the score to 21–18. Despite the turning point for Penn, the Red and Blue’s twelve unforced errors kept the Quakers from taking the set, which ended 25–21 in Yale’s favor.
By the second set, the Bulldogs were struggling to maintain the offensive prowess and level of play that they are known for; the Elis registered a dismal -0.022 hitting percentage for the frame. With nine hitting errors, Yale struggled to put the ball away. On the other side of the net, the Quakers capitalized on their offensive firepower, with double-digit performances in the front row by four players. Outside hitter Hayley Molnar led the team in efficiency at 0.382, and her first-year counterpart, Parker Jones, spearheaded the team’s hitting with 18 kills. Within the last five points, Penn converted three kills and took the set 18–25.
Yale dropped yet another set in the third frame, which the Quakers took control of early on. Penn hit a 0.219 to the Bulldogs’ 0.158 in the set, and they secured the lead with the very first point, never relinquishing it for the entirety of the contest. The Elis also suffered from five service errors, including on the game point, losing the set at 20–25.
In the fourth frame, the Elis stepped up their defensive game and offensive power, preventing the Red and Blue from converting kills. Libero Kate Swanson ’18 posted 25 digs for the game, contributing to her career total of 985 digs thus far. Outside hitters Attar and Kott each registered at least ten kills for the game, with Attar leading the team at nineteen on the match. With the game tied at 25 all, the teams traded swings until a kill by outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’18 and an attack error by Penn ended the match 27–25, Yale.
At two sets each, the Bulldogs were forced into their first five-set contest of the season, with only 15 points left to decide the victor. Both squads put forth their best offensive effort: the Elis had only one attacking error, and the Quakers had a standout hitting performance in the last frame, posting a 0.500 percentage with no errors. When outside hitter Michelle Pereira served an ace that kissed the net, Penn captured the lead for the remainder of the frame, which ended 13–15. The Quakers achieved their first win over the Bulldogs since 2010, when they also drove the Elis to a five-frame contest.
“We were really emotionally and physically tired from the night before,” Appleman said. “We were so emotionally concentrated on Friday that we weren’t able to turn around and prepare as well as we needed to for Saturday.”
Looking forward, the Elis are anticipating its last four games of the regular season. The Bulldogs are hoping to make the most of its first-place spot in the conference and rebound after the loss to Penn.
“We don’t have to redevelop the wheel,” Appleman said. “We’re still in a good spot, and we’re still one game ahead of the pack … I just feel like we need to take care of our business, and that’s what we talk about all the time.”
Yale will finish off its home games for the season this weekend with matches against Harvard and Dartmouth. The contest against Harvard will start at 7 p.m. this Friday while the game against Dartmouth will begin at 5 p.m. this Saturday, both at John J. Lee Amphitheater.
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