The Yale volleyball team left the Northeast for the first and last time of the regular season this weekend as it traveled to the Sunshine State for its last slate of matches before beginning Ivy play.
Despite opening up the weekend with a loss to Florida Gulf Coast (7–5, 0–0 Atlantic Sun), the Elis (6–3, 0–0 Ivy) came together the following afternoon to dominate Alabama State (3–11, 0–0 Southwestern) in straight sets. Yale wrapped up the weekend in a thrilling five-set match against host Central Florida (9–3, 0–0 American), but could not erase an early two-set deficit and left Florida with a 1–2 record.
“I thought we focused a lot better this weekend,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “We didn’t stay as focused as we need to in the first match, but in the rest of the matches we were very dialed in and focused on what we needed to do.”
In their first game of the tournament, the Bulldogs faced several defensive stalwarts on Florida Gulf Coast’s roster. Over the course of the contest, the Elis were blocked 20 times and registered only a meager .113 hitting percentage. The Eagles also collected 72 digs for the match, keeping the ball off the ground to prevent the Elis from notching kills.
By the end of the first two sets, the Bulldogs were even with the Eagles, but the Elis could not overcome their offensive struggles in the following two frames. Still, individual Bulldogs had some bright spots during the match. First-year phenom outside hitter Ellis DeJardin ’22 put down 12 kills in the contest. Meanwhile, captain and libero Kate Swanson ’19 registered a season high of 25 digs.
“[Florida Gulf Coast] was a really good defensive team, so it was just really good to score points against them,” Appleman said. “I think our passing was very good, but we were just struggling offensively on finding ways to score.”
The Bulldogs’ next match against Alabama State could not have been more different. Each of the three frames against the Hornets ended in resounding victory for the Elis, as Yale won each set by at least a 10-point margin. The Bulldogs’ serving game and depth of offensive weapons proved to be too much for Alabama State to contend with, and the Hornets were often scrambling just to get the ball over the net.
Yale notched an astonishing 14 service aces for the match, with six coming from libero Yurika Boyd ’21 and four from setter Franny Arnautou ’20. When the Hornets did manage to send the ball back to the Bulldogs, the Elis’ offense was ready to operate. Five Yale hitters registered at least six kills, while only four Alabama State players earned any kills at all. Outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 was especially effective for the Bulldogs, posting an impressive .692 efficiency for the game.
“Alabama State struggled with their ball handling,” Yale associate head coach Kevin Laseau said. “They had very few passes where they could run offense, so that was a huge advantage for us. When you rack up as many aces as we did in that match, you should come out on top.”
For its third match in 24 hours, the Elis faced off against the University of Central Florida in a hotly contested five-set battle. Going into the game against the Knights, who defeated No. 7 Southern California two weeks earlier, the Bulldogs knew that they would need to make aggressive and smart decisions on the court. Despite falling short, the Elis fought valiantly: Yale took the tournament host to five sets and never dropped a frame by more than three points.
The Knights accumulated early leads in the first two frames, narrowly edging the Elis out in both sets. But Yale rallied for the next frame, scoring 10 out of the first 13 points in the third set and hitting an impressive .357 efficiency. The Bulldogs defeated their opponents by a hefty nine-point margin and maintained momentum in the fourth set, scraping by with a win in overtime. But Yale’s hopes of a comeback were thwarted by the team’s 42 unforced errors, and the Elis fell to the Knights 15–13 in the final frame.
Wirth and Swanson were standouts throughout the weekend, and the game against Central Florida was no exception. Wirth put away 23 kills against the Knights, and Swanson registered 29 digs. Both players earned all-tournament honors at the end of the weekend.
“I think we can work on coming out with confidence from the very start, no matter our opponent,” outside hitter Kathryn Attar ’21 said. “We have been going hard in practice every day and giving 100 percent.”
The Bulldogs start conference play away at Brown this coming weekend.
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