The Yale volleyball team took home its first Ivy League championship since 2014 this weekend, a title the team held from 2010 to 2014.
After a turbulent weekend, the Bulldogs pulled through to uphold Yale’s history of dominance on the court. Going into the last two games of the conference season, Yale (16–7, 10–4) was tied with Princeton (17–7, 10–4) for first in the league, leaving the two teams to grapple for the championship. Ultimately, Princeton lost to Dartmouth while Yale triumphed over Columbia, securing Yale a share of the conference title in the 11th hour.
“We are thrilled with the outcome of the weekend, especially knowing that everyone on this roster made contributions,” setter Franny Arnautou ’20 said. “We worked hard all season and capping it with a ring was more meaningful than I could have expected … while we are excited with the championship, we are hungry for our Saturday matchup with Princeton and see it as an opportunity to put an exclamation point on a great season.”
Going into the weekend, the Bulldogs had anticipated a challenge. Columbia and Cornell were 9–1 for home games this season before the Elis’ last road trip.
Still, no one could have anticipated that the Big Red would go on to sweep the Elis on Friday night. The Bulldogs, usually a formidable offensive force, were kept to a meager 0.154 hitting percentage for the entirety of the match. In the first set, the Bulldogs suffered from twelve unforced errors, half of which were attack errors. The Big Red ultimately took the set 27–25 after several missed game-point opportunities.
“It just didn’t seem like we were very sharp from the very beginning [against Cornell],” Yale associate head coach Kevin Laseau said. “I think they executed their offense pretty well and did what they wanted to do … they never gave us a chance to take a breath.”
The second set opened with the Bulldogs once again struggling to put the ball away, hitting at a 0.075 efficiency. Four unforced errors gave Cornell the opportunity to quickly draw out a 0–6 lead, a deficit from which the Elis never recovered. A kill by Cornell leader and right side hitter Kit McCarty, who converted 14 kills for the match, ended the set 25–22 in the Big Red’s favor.
In the third set, the Bulldogs limited themselves to only six unforced errors. Arnautou had a double-double with 16 assists and 12 digs. Outside hitters Kelley Wirth ’19 and Attar each led the team with nine kills, and counterpart Megan Rasmussen ’18 hit with a commendable 0.333 efficiency. The set ended 25–19, jeopardizing the Bulldogs’ prospects of securing the Ivy League title.
“Imagine you are at the bottom of one of the biggest hills you can think of,” Laseau said. “That’s where we were Friday night and Saturday morning. But you have to give a ton of credit to [Appleman] because she said to the team, ‘We still have things to play for. … [Columbia] is the next match on our schedule so we have to get it back together.’ … That kind of leadership is priceless.”
To tie for the championship, Yale not only would have to defeat Columbia but also needed Princeton to drop an unlikely match to sixth-ranked Dartmouth.
With this in mind, the Elis were back on the court to face Columbia in their last match of the regular season. Despite Friday’s disappointing defeat, the Bulldogs entered the match with an undeniable sense of grit, hoping to stay in championship contention. In the early goings of the first set, the Bulldogs jumped to a 12–5 advantage, capitalizing especially on several Columbia attacking errors. The Bulldogs ultimately sealed a 25–17 first-frame victory on a kill by outside hitter Tristin Kott ’20.
“We started off [against Columbia] as we should have against Cornell,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “We were serving aggressively, making great plays on defense, and we were in control. It was what we needed to do.”
Upon entering the second set, however, Columbia was eager to punch back. From the start, the Lions refused to let the Elis establish momentum, never falling more than three points behind Yale. Right side hitter Anja Malesevic and middle blocker Chichi Ikwuazom shared 48 kills between them — accounting for 66 percent of the Lions’ kill total for the match. The set saw 15 ties between the competitors, but it was the Lions who ultimately solidified a 30–28 win.
Looking to rebound in the third set, the Elis once again drew out an early 9–5 lead, prompting a Columbia timeout. Columbia responded with five points in the next six rallies to put itself even with the Bulldogs, and the third frame became just as much of a duel as the previous set. Both teams’ offensive units came alive with 21 kills each in the frame, battling into sixteen extra points to determine a victor. The Lions clawed their way to a win, barely securing a 33–31 victory.
With the match on the line, the Elis hit the court for the fourth frame with a sense of urgency and tenacity, hungry to keep their season alive. Six different Elis registered kills in the frame, thanks to tactful decision-making by Arnautou and setter Kelsey Crawford ’18. The duo notched phenomenal numbers on Saturday — tallying 36 and 24 assists, respectively. Despite running a versatile offense, Arnautou and Crawford targeted hitter Attar a whopping 61 times. Attar dominated at the net and converted on 28 of these attempts, with the most important kill being one that confirmed a 25–19 victory for the Bulldogs in the fourth set.
“The setters put up really nice, fluffy sets,” Laseau said. “All a hitter wants to do is see the ball float up so they can punch it out of the air, and I thought [Arnautou and Crawford] made really good decisions … they didn’t try to do anything too crazy. A lot of times that’s all you need.”
Unaware of Princeton’s stunning loss to Dartmouth, the Elis entered the fifth set keen on finishing off the Lions. Within minutes, the Bulldogs found themselves one rally from securing their first Ivy League title since 2014. It was Attar who put down the decisive match point, to secure a 15–8 victory. Attar’s kill came from the hands of outside hitter Megan Rasmussen ’18, who also registered strong numbers throughout the match, putting up 22 digs and 15 kills.
After shaking hands with their opponents, it took just moments for the Bulldogs to realize they had won the Ivy League. The subsequent scene on the floor was one of pure exhilaration; Elis were jumping into each other’s arms, tears were shed and others fell to the floor feeling stunned but completely elated.
“We were so, so happy [after the match],” libero Kate Swanson ’19 said. “We had no idea until after the game was over that we had won the Ivy League, so the surprise added to the excitement and pure joy everyone felt.”
Yale will look to extend their phenomenal season in an Ivy League playoff match against Princeton next Saturday at 7 p.m. in the John J. Lee Amphitheater. The winner will automatically earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
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