Looking to set the tone for the rest of Ivy League play, the Yale volleyball team (7–3, 1–0 Ivy) downed Brown (7–4, 0–1) in straight sets on Saturday afternoon for the Bulldogs’ first conference victory this season.
After playing three matches in each of the past three weekends, the Elis entered last week’s practices eager to focus on conference play. Their first opponent — Brown — presented an early challenge to the Bulldog’s defensive line: the Bears currently sit atop the Ivy League for hitting percentage and kills per set. Yet the Bulldogs ultimately thwarted Brown’s offensive firepower. Yale blocked the Bears 12 times in the contest and limited Brown to a meager .153 hitting percentage.
“We’ve been focusing on maintaining focus at a high level,” Yale Associate Head Coach Kevin Laseau said. “We’ve been trying to come out strong, play a high level of volleyball and keep it going. We’ve been really doing that in practice, and I think it’s translated into some matches lately.”
Early on in the first set, the two teams traded points, and neither could secure a significant advantage. Midway through the match, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 13–9 lead after outside hitter Ellis DeJardin ’22 registered three kills within five points, and Brown suffered three critical attacking errors. Although the Bears refused to give up and even came within one point of tying the Elis, Yale never relinquished its lead and took the first frame 25–18.
The Bulldogs’ offensive effort in the first set was also well-rounded, as five Yale hitters notched kills in the frame. Outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 was especially effective, collecting five kills for the set. Conversely, the Bears did not do themselves any favors, registering just 11 kills out of 44 attempts in the first set and committing seven errors along the way.
“We passed really well — better than we’ve ever passed before,” Yale Head Coach Erin Appleman said. “We were in system about 90 percent of the time in the match. So if you pass well and have three options all the time, it’s really hard to defend against.”
The second set of the match started much like the first, until a pair of runs by the Bulldogs quickly transformed the frame into an overwhelming victory for Yale. The Elis were dominant at the net, hitting an impressive .400 efficiency and scoring 16 kills in the set. Wirth added another four kills in the frame, while DeJardin contributed four of her own as well in the 25–15 rout.
While the Elis’ offense was firing on all cylinders, their defense and passing served as the critical backbone of their success. Each of the 10 Bulldogs that played in the match registered at least one dig, and six of them notched at least three. DeJardin and Libero Kate Swanson ’19 spearheaded the defensive effort and secured 11 and 22 digs, respectively.
“Any time that your libero can get 22 digs in three sets, you’re doing something right,” Laseau said. “It was just a great performance by Kate Swanson. And when your defensive leader does that, it sets the tone for the rest of the backcourt.”
The Bears continued to fight valiantly but ultimately fell short of a comeback as Yale secured the final frame 25–22. Though the set saw eight tied scorelines, the Bulldogs relied on the depth of their roster to overcome Brown in every aspect of the game. Not only did the Elis outhit the Bears 48 to 35, but Yale notched eight more blocks and eight more digs than its opponent as well.
The Yale team also kept unforced errors to a minimum throughout the match, another critical contributor to the Bulldogs’ victory. Wirth converted on 15 kills while only making two hitting errors for the entirety of the match. Posting 13 kills with only one hitting error, DeJardin also had a spotless game — the rookie earned a double-double during her first conference match.
“When you go from playing just one opponent to playing two the next weekend, you realize have to be good on two nights, back to back,” Appleman said. “That’s not an easy thing to do. It’s about being prepared for both teams. But Penn comes first, and that’s the team that we’re focusing on.”
The Elis return to the court this weekend against Penn and Princeton for their first full slate of away games.
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