Traveling to New York for its fifth consecutive slate of away matches, the Yale volleyball team (10–4, 4–1 Ivy) swept Columbia (9–6, 3–2 Ivy) and handed Cornell (9–6, 4–1 Ivy) its first loss in Ivy play as the Bulldogs proved themselves to be road warriors in the Empire State.
Despite initially coming out flat-footed against the Lions, the Elis highlighted this weekend’s performance with steady, resilient play and a lockdown defensive effort. Though the Lions faced the Bulldogs shorthanded — star middle blocker Chichi Ikwuazom sat out on Friday with an injury — Columbia came ready to play. Yale ultimately stymied their efforts, and the team headed to Ithaca with a third conference win under its belt. The Bulldogs’ offense came alive against the Big Red the following afternoon when Yale snagged a victory in four sets.
Emerging from the weekend, the Elis are tied for the top spot in Ivy standings with Princeton and Cornell.
“I’d say this weekend we showed how resilient and gritty we can be,” middle blocker Chiara Spain ’21 said. “I think every member of the team was really focused on doing their own job so we could find success as a unit. It was very fun, and going forward we are really excited to play confidently at a high level. We are extremely motivated to work hard in practice and now defend our home court for a few weekends after being on the road so much.”
Though the Elis entered Friday’s match against Columbia eager to stunt the Lions’ fierce offense, the Bulldogs began the game somewhat inconsistently. Several hitting errors plagued Yale early on, and the Light Blue quickly stretched out an 11–5 lead. Even after Yale head coach Erin Appleman called a timeout, the Bulldogs still struggled to get back on track. Columbia maintained its advantage for the lion’s share of the game, leading 18–12 at one point.
Determined to fight back, the Elis regrouped as the team ultimately pulled within one point of the Lions when Columbia called a timeout. After the break, the Light Blue could not manage to stunt the Bulldogs’ momentum, and Yale took the frame 25–23. Both the Elis’ offensive aggressiveness and a string of Columbia errors toward the end of the set proved to be paramount to Yale’s comeback.
“It was not the start we were looking for,” Yale associate coach Kevin Laseau said. “But eventually we got a little more comfortable in the match and where we were and really grounded out. We started playing better defense, serving better, and that made up the difference.”
Though the second and third sets were certainly competitive, the Bulldogs maintained control for the majority of the action. After hitting with a dismal -.032 efficiency in the first set, the Elis improved at the net by hitting .200 and .306 in the second and third frames, respectively. Outside hitters Tristin Kott ’20, Kathryn Attar ’21 and Ellis DeJardin ’22 led the way for the Bulldogs, each hitting upwards of .240 and adding at least seven kills.
The following day, Yale reclaimed its place atop Ivy rankings after a hard-fought four-set game against Cornell. The Bulldogs opened the match with two clean frames, defeating the Big Red 25–17 and 25–20. In both sets, the Elis went on substantial service runs and kept unforced errors to a minimum. Outside hitter Gray Malias ’19 went on a six-point service streak in the first frame, and the senior finished the game with four aces, a career best. The Big Red also recorded twice as many unforced errors as the Bulldogs with 18 to Yale’s nine mistakes.
Though Yale’s characteristic smart decision-making and steady play pulled the team through the first half of the match, the Bulldogs struggled to mount a productive offense in the third frame. Cornell pulled to an early lead with an eight-point service run, leaving the Elis at a 10–1 deficit. At a disadvantage from the get-go, Yale also suffered 10 failed attacking attempts from five different hitters. Ultimately, the Bulldogs registered a -.061 efficiency for the frame as Cornell took the set 25–13.
“We played great transition volleyball, which means we dug a hard hit and then transitioned and scored, which is something we’ve been working on,” Appleman said. “And I just thought we stayed fierce through the first two sets. We kind of let up in game three, but were able to come back in game four.”
Despite a bitter loss in the third frame, the Elis rallied and captured a win in the final set. This time the Bulldogs pulled to another early lead and sealed the deal with a four-point service streak with two aces in the mix by libero Kate Swanson ’19. Swanson also led the team with 21 digs, narrowly trailed by setter Franny Arnautou ’19 who contributed 19 digs.
Arnautou had the team-best in hitting efficiency, registering .667 with a career-best seven kills. Spain also had a standout performance: The hitter had a flawless offensive production, notching nine kills on 16 chances with no errors.
“[Spain] was amazing this weekend,” Laseau said. “She’s just got such great energy. She’s someone that you want to play with during a match. She’s always talking, always putting in the extra bit of hustle to close a block, and I thought that she was more aggressive this weekend on offense than she has been all year.”
Appleman remarked that the past five weekends of away games have bolstered team confidence and helped Yale make necessary adjustments. The coach as well as multiple players have expressed excitement to return to John J. Lee Amphitheater to resume Ivy play.
The Elis will host their first conference matches at home starting on Friday at 7 p.m. against Dartmouth. On Saturday, Yale faces Harvard at 5 p.m.
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