It has been 42 days since the Yale volleyball team (10–4, 4–1 Ivy) last played a match in John J. Lee Amphitheater. But entering this weekend sharing the top spot in the Ivy League with Cornell and Princeton, the Bulldogs will finally have home-court advantage when they face Dartmouth (6–9, 2–3 Ivy) and Harvard (7–7, 2–3 Ivy).
To kick off the weekend, Yale will play Dartmouth — a team the Elis have defeated in five consecutive matchups. Although the Bulldogs have history on their side, the Big Green has unexpectedly stumped conference top teams in the past. Last year, Dartmouth took down Princeton in a five-set thriller, a game which helped the Bulldogs secure a share of the Ivy League title. On Saturday, Yale will take on rival Harvard in a faceoff that never fails to draw an enthusiastic crowd of fans. The Elis will be out for redemption, as the last time Harvard visited New Haven, the Crimson left with a victory.
“Being home is just so nice,” associate head coach Kevin Laseau said. “Being on the road is great too, but after five weekends in a row, it’s just nice to know we don’t have to get on a bus on Thursday and that we’re going to be sleeping in our beds. We don’t have to worry about all the logistics that go with traveling. And best of all we’ll be playing in our gym.”
So far this season, Dartmouth has struggled to find its stride in Ivy League play, but the Big Green will undoubtedly look to capitalize on its defensive weapons at the net to stunt the Bulldogs’ attacking unit this Friday. Dartmouth possesses two of the top three blockers in the conference — middle blockers Tola Akinwumi and Francesca Meldrum — who average 1.20 and 1.17 blocks per game, respectively. In its second match against the Elis last year, Dartmouth used its blockers to stymie Yale attackers 18 times, while the Bulldogs registered just eight blocks against the Big Green.
Still, the Elis maintain an advantage over the Big Green in every major statistical category — including team blocking averages — this season. The Bulldogs stand second in the league in both assists and kills, and Yale boasts the Ivy League’s best opponent hitting percentage. Opposing teams average a lackluster .169 hitting efficiency against the Elis. This weekend, the Bulldogs will also look to draw upon its depth to take advantage of Dartmouth’s weaknesses.
“I never know what my lineup is going to be,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “And that makes it difficult to scout us. … It’s nice to be deep, and it’s nice to have an experienced group. We have some players that aren’t getting as much playing time, but they’re experienced, and every day in practice they’re helping everybody.”
At the outside hitting position alone, five Yale players have notched over 60 kills on the season, and two of them — Kathryn Attar ’21 and Ellis DeJardin ’22 — have put down over 100. Three Yale middle blockers have also maintained a hitting efficiency above .240 and contributed at least 25 blocks each. Yale’s backline has been just as stable, as five Yale players have registered more than 95 digs on the season while four Bulldogs have already surmounted the 100-dig mark.
On Saturday, the Elis will compete against Harvard, which is currently tied for fifth in the conference with Dartmouth. Coming into the weekend, the Crimson will aim to maintain its winning momentum. Last week, Harvard swept both Penn and Princeton, giving the Tigers their first loss in Ivy play this season. Two weeks ago, Yale lost to Princeton in a bitter four-set defeat.
In particular, the Crimson will rely on the veteran leadership of its standout middle blockers, Christina Cornelius and Maclaine Fields. Both offensive weapons have surpassed the 100-kill mark for the season. Cornelius ranks sixth in the conference with a .301 hitting efficiency and fifth in the league for blocks. Counterpart Fields ranks eighth for blocks, directly preceded by Yale’s own middle blocker Samantha Bray ’22.
“Harvard’s strengths are in their middles, but they have very good offense at all positions. They’re able to get offense from a number of different people,” said Laseau. “Cornelius is good because she’s a tremendous athlete and an experienced senior. She’s the one who really gets things going for her team.”
Nevertheless, the Crimson has struggled to collect victories on the road this year. Harvard has dropped every single one of its road Ivy matches thus far and started conference play with a three-match losing streak. Not only do the Elis have home-field advantage against Harvard but Yale also bests Harvard in nearly every statistical category. In fact, the Crimson currently comes in at the bottom of Ivy rankings for kills per set, assists and team hitting efficiency.
Ultimately, Yale’s return to its home court will benefit the team in ways that cannot be understated. Not only have the Bulldogs historically enjoyed an electric and massive showing of support from fans for home games, especially against Harvard, but also the team will be hosting its Dig Pink initiative this weekend. According to the team website, fans are encouraged to wear pink in support of breast cancer awareness and the Bulldogs’ partnership with the Side-Out Foundation.
“[I] think we grew so much as a team … in our long road stretch. We’re all ecstatic to finally play in [John J. Lee Amphitheater] again but aren’t any less focused, and we understand that every Ivy opponent we face requires us to be sharp and locked in,” said setter Franny Arnautou ’20. “We’re looking forward to preparing this week and executing this weekend. If we do those two things well, I think we put ourselves in a great position to be successful.”
The contest against Dartmouth begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, while the game against Harvard starts at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
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