The last time Yale volleyball hit the road to face Penn and Princeton, the Bulldogs landed their most thrilling victory and their most heartbreaking loss of the 2017 season. This weekend, the Elis will look to repeat last year’s stellar road win against the Tigers, who defeated the Bulldogs in a one-game playoff at the end of last season, and earn redemption against Penn.
Following a dominant win over Brown last Saturday, the Bulldogs (7–3, 1–0 Ivy) are eager to snag two more critical wins on the road. Yale’s upcoming opponents faced each other last week as the Tigers (8–4, 1–0) took the Quakers (3–9, 0–1) down in straight sets. Although Princeton seems primed to defend the Ivy League title — which it shared with Yale last year — the Elis will undoubtedly challenge both upcoming opponents with equal urgency.
“Every match matters in the Ivy League, and we are going in with the mentality of one game at a time,” captain and libero Kate Swanson ’19 said. “If you’ve ever come to our games, you know we are a team full of energy, and we are looking to bring that into every away match we have. We’ve been focusing on every rep in practice, and we are expecting to have that same focus when it comes to game time.”
The Bulldogs will first travel to Philadelphia on Friday for contest against a hard-hitting Penn team at the Palestra. Though the Quakers have several formidable weapons, they struggled in the beginning of the season to run an effective offense. The team is hitting at a .184 efficiency compared to Yale’s .217. Penn not only lost eight sets in the row, but also dropped six out of its last eight matches.
Despite a subpar record and lack of momentum, the Quakers will look to rely on home-court advantage to give themselves a fighting chance against Yale. Penn’s roster also boasts one of the conference’s most talented sophomores — outside hitter Parker Jones — who put down an impressive 18 kills in the Quakers’ win over the Bulldogs a season ago. Still, the Elis enter the match with the upper hand over Penn in nearly every statistical category, including kills, digs and assists-per-set.
“Penn has a really good front-court game,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “I think they play really well at the net, have some good blockers and have some young people playing that are doing really nice things.”
The Bulldogs’ second match versus the Tigers figures to be a more competitive showdown. Princeton’s roster includes the top-ranked Ivy League hitter, middle blocker Clare Lenihan, as well as the top-ranked conference setter, Jessie Harris. The defending Ivy League Player of the Year, right side hitter Maggie O’Connell, is in her third year at Princeton and has been a consistent weapon for the Tigers. She hits with a .280 efficiency, putting down more than three kills-per-set on average.
“Princeton has a lot of experience returning,” Laseau said. “We know who they are, and they have a lot of solid players that are two- and three-year starters. They know their system very well at this point.”
The match may come down to a battle between the defensive lines. The Tigers excelled in the back row throughout the preseason and currently lead the Ivy League in digs-per-set, averaging 17.98 per frame. Rookie libero Cameron Dames leads the Tigers in digs, notching 4.58 per set. Dames also ranks second in the conference in that category, bested only by Swanson, who is the reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and averages 5.03 digs-per-set.
Despite the stiff obstacle Princeton will pose to the Bulldogs, Yale can capitalize on its own depth and talent to challenge the Tigers. The Elis rank among the top-three teams in the Ivy League in hitting efficiency, assists, kills, digs and blocks, while the Bulldogs own the best overall record in the conference. Yale possesses yet another advantage in its dynamic coaching duo of Appleman and associate head coach Kevin Laseau, who has led Yale to eight conference championships in the past 14 years.
“If we simply execute with some intensity, that’s really the way to getting a sweep,” Laseau said. “You come into the first match from the first point and go from there. … You have to take care of what’s important there, and then move on.”
The contest against Penn starts at 7 p.m. at the Palestra. On Saturday, the game against Princeton is set for 5 p.m. in Dillon Gymnasium.
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