Looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Princeton last Saturday, the Bulldogs (8–4, 2–1) will head to New York to face Columbia (8–5, 2–1 Ivy) and Cornell (8–5, 3–0 Ivy) this weekend.
The Elis’ last trip to the Empire State was a memorable one: It was the weekend the Bulldogs clinched a share of the 2017 Ivy League title after a five-set thriller against Columbia. Though the conference championship will not be decided this weekend, the Elis are eager to bring the same energy to the court as they did last year. The Bulldogs will face one of the Ivy League’s best offensive weapons when they take on Columbia and one of its most solid defensive units when they play Cornell.
“The energy [in the gym] this week has been great,” Yale associate head coach Kevin Laseau said. “I have not seen any kind of wallowing and brooding about last weekend. We know we should have played better, and we moved on to what’s next, and that’s Columbia.”
For the Elis’ first stop this weekend, the team will travel just 80 miles south of New Haven to New York City, where it will battle Columbia. Despite dropping their first conference match to Cornell, the Lions rebounded last weekend to take down Dartmouth and Harvard. Columbia is led by middle blocker Chichi Ikwuazom, who currently hits with a .347 efficiency — fourth best in the Ivy League. With 1.08 per set, the junior ranks third in the conference for blocks. Ikwuazom has been a standout attacker for Columbia since her first year, when she won Ivy League Rookie of the Year.
The Lions also boast the conference’s top servers — outside hitter Emily Teehan and libero Kalie Wood. Both average .42 aces per set and tie for the first spot in Ivy rankings. In order to overcome the offensive challenges Columbia presents, the Bulldogs’ backline must play a more consistent match than it did against Princeton. The Elis undoubtedly possess the tools to do so; libero Kate Swanson ’19 still leads the league in digs, averaging five per set. The Bulldogs also stand second in opponent hitting percentages: Other teams average a meager .169 hitting efficiency against Yale.
“Columbia has a returning first-team All-Ivy middle blocker in [Ikwuazom], their setter returned, and they have a good freshman [Teehan] right now,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “They have a good offensive lineup overall, and I think they do some great stuff from the net.”
After facing the Lions, the Bulldogs will hit the road for over four hours, trekking to Ithaca, New York to play Cornell. The Big Red has enjoyed a hot start to conference play, and the team enters the weekend undefeated against Ivy opponents.
Cornell’s defense has played an essential part in its success throughout the season. The Big Red currently ranks first in the conference for opponent hitting percentage, opponent assists and opponent kills. Cornell’s defensive centerpiece, libero Lily Barber, averages 4.33 digs per game, trailing just behind Swanson for the category in the Ivy League.
Beyond its defense, Cornell has proven itself to be a multidimensional team, and the Big Red will test the Bulldogs’ own defensive unit as well. In its match against the Ivy League’s top-blocking team, Dartmouth, the Big Red’s offense dominated in straight sets. Cornell took the third set against the Big Green by a hefty 12-point margin, and the Big Red hit with a .423 efficiency to cap off the match.
“Cornell is a really disciplined team. They are a really strong, smart and cohesive team that plays well as a unit. I think they’re playing really well right now,” Appleman said.
In preparing for their match against Cornell, the Bulldogs will draw upon their offensive depth. Last year, the Elis overpowered Cornell at the net. Outside hitter Kathryn Attar ’21 notched an impressive 15 kills, while middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 added 13. Outside hitter Tristin Kott ’20 also hit with outstanding efficiency, putting down 10 kills on just 24 attempts.
Yale will also need to brace itself for a notoriously difficult slate of away games. Given the substantial distance between Columbia and Cornell, the Bulldogs will need to combat fatigue over the course of the weekend. According to the coaches, the Elis are looking forward to bonding while travelling.
“[The game against Princeton] was a learning experience for us, and we [headed] into this week… with a strong intent to get better, not only for this weekend, but for the rest of Ivy play,” said outside hitter Ellis DeJardin ’22.
The weekend kicks off at 7 p.m. on Friday against Columbia, and the game against Cornell starts at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
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