The Yale volleyball team entered senior weekend having triumphed in 56 out of 58 of its last home matches. Despite the outpouring of support from friends and family, however, the Bulldogs dropped their third conference home game since 2009 to Harvard and slipped into a tie with Princeton at the top of the Ivy standings.
On Friday, Harvard (12–9, 7–5 Ivy) gave Yale (15–6, 9–3) its second five-set match of the season, including a gripping deciding set that went 10 points into overtime before the Crimson emerged 20–18 victors. The Elis attained redemption the following afternoon, sweeping Dartmouth (4–8, 8–13).
“We had a bad taste in our mouths after Harvard and were eager to get back into a rhythm,” middle blocker Chiara Spain ’21 said. “It was also senior night, which was motivating because we all want their last game [at Yale] to be a win. We also know how important it is that we execute at this point in the season.”
In the first frame of the five-set heartbreaker on Friday, Harvard jumped to an early 4–1 lead, with three of the Crimson’s points resulting from Yale’s unforced errors, a deficit from which the Bulldogs never recovered. For the remainder of the set, Harvard and Yale traded the ball back and forth, each handing over ten points in unforced errors, before the Crimson took the set 25–21.
By the second set, both Yale and Harvard upped their offensive efficiency, registering 0.211 and 0.172 hitting percentages, respectively. Though Harvard once again opened the frame with a 4–2 lead, three attacking errors and a misserve by the Crimson allowed the Bulldogs to turn the score around at 6–5. Outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 led the Bulldogs in efficiency, converting 17 kills in the game with a hitting percentage of 0.395. Her rookie counterpart, Kathryn Attar ’21, led the team with 19 kills, the third time she’s tied with her career best.
Despite brief moments of rocky service-receive and defensive miscommunication throughout the game, the Bulldogs’ had a strong showing in the back row. Four Elis attained double-digit digs, with libero Kate Swanson ’19 achieving a career-best of 38 digs, the highest total by an Ivy player this season. Swanson also reached the 1,000 dig milestone during the Harvard game.
Although the Crimson was two sets down, it refused to lose the contest without a fight. Harvard’s front row capitalized on tips, deep pushes, hard kills down the line and swings through the block to take the fourth set in extra points. After several long rallies and a series of controversial calls by the referees, Harvard took a tense set 26–24, in which the score was tied on 11 occasions.
“Harvard is really good offensive team and they have some hitters that do a really good job putting the ball away,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “We did what we were supposed to do by slowing down their middles, but we just didn’t finish the job.”
In the final set, the Bulldogs notched six kills in the first few plays, quickly running up an 8–4 advantage. Despite this brief lead, 13 kills by the Crimson in the last set made it difficult for the Elis to maintain the lead. By 18-18, the Elis had squandered four opportunities to put the game away, eventually falling to a contentious call on a service error and an anticlimactic tip by Harvard in the last two points, resulting in the 20–18 final mark.
The victory put Harvard in contention for the Ivy League championship, only for a five-set loss to last-place Brown to all but dash its hopes.
The Bulldogs returned to the court on Saturday anxious to recover their rhythm against Dartmouth, in their final home match of the season. Despite jumping out to a 5–1 lead in the early goings of the contest, the Bulldogs dropped six straight points to Dartmouth. However, the Elis refused to relent and ultimately cemented their first-set victory thanks to outside hitter Attar’s effort at the net; the rookie registered two kills and a block in the final three rallies of the frame, putting the Elis on top 25–21.
“Our setters did a good job of spreading the ball around [against Dartmouth],” Appleman said. “Our offense was really clicking. Our passing has been really good — [Swanson] has been playing incredibly well the past couple of weekends and was able to get our offense going.”
The Bulldogs surged to a 7–0 advantage to open the second frame. The team attained a stellar 0.312 hitting percentage in the second frame and also capitalized on the Big Green’s own offensive woes, as Dartmouth hit a meager 0.094. Yale ultimately cruised to a 25–17 second-set victory to put it one frame away from capturing its ninth conference win of the season.
Despite falling behind two sets, the Big Green showed no signs of acquiescing to the Bulldogs’ momentum. By playing scrappy and tenacious volleyball, Dartmouth established an 18–13 lead over the Bulldogs, putting the pressure on Yale to respond. However, captain and setter Kelsey Crawford ’18, maintaining her poise and confidence, registered six straight assists to put the Bulldogs back on top. Following Crawford’s phenomenal run, the Elis battled their way to a 25–23 victory, with a number of Bulldogs tallying kills in the final rallies to solidify the win.
“[Crawford] really understands the game of volleyball,” Appleman said. “[She] has always been someone who finds ways to win and can get the right people at the right time. Her leadership as captain has [been shown] through her steady play.”
The Bulldogs will face Columbia and Cornell in their remaining regular-season matches next weekend, a road trip that has proven to be difficult for the Ancient Eight’s top teams. Nevertheless, the Elis are focused and motivated to complete season sweeps of the Big Red and the Lions, and in doing so, earn their first Ivy League title since 2014.
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