The Yale volleyball team will look to secure the top spot in the Ivy League standings when it takes on Princeton and Penn this weekend. The Elis are currently tied with the Tigers for first place in the conference.
The Bulldogs (13–4, 7–1 Ivy) will first match up against Princeton (14–5, 7–1 Ivy) on Friday and are eager to take down the Tigers for the first time since sweeping them in three sets last October. Although the Tigers have proved successful in exploiting some of the Elis’ weaknesses in their last two matchups, the Bulldogs are confident in their chances going into the massive weekend. With five-straight wins under their belts, as well as home-court advantage, the Elis feel prepared for the challenge. The Yale team will enter its second match of the weekend as a decisive favorite when they face a Penn (5–14, 2–6 Ivy) squad ranked second-to-last in the conference. In any case, the Bulldogs see both of the contests this weekend as must-win matches.
“This upcoming weekend is super important because we play the only team we’ve lost to in conference play again, so this is our chance for redemption,” outside hitter Ellis DeJardin ’22 said. “But, we have to take care of business for both teams and can’t get too focused on one team more than the other.”
In Yale’s last two matches against the Tigers, overcoming Princeton’s offensive strategy and depth proved to be the Elis’ kryptonite. The Tigers boast the Ivy League’s top hitting efficiency, ranking first in assists and kills per set. Princeton is also armed with some of the conference’s top hitters — right side hitter Maggie O’Connell and middle blocker Clare Lenihan — both of whom were particularly effective against Yale earlier this season. O’Connell registered a remarkable 21 kills in just four sets, while Lenihan posted 18 kills on just 37 attempts.
Princeton setter Jessie Harris has also been a critical piece to the Tigers’ success this season. Harris averages a league-best 11.73 assists per set, as well as 2.60 digs per frame. She registered an astounding 59 assists against Yale in their first matchup this season, benefitting from Princeton’s stellar defensive unit that undoubtedly helps to maximize Harris’ opportunities. Earlier this season, the Tigers put up 70 digs against Yale, while the Elis only posted 50.
“[Princeton] has a really good offense,” associate head coach Kevin Laseau said. “They have a lot of people that can hit the ball, a lot of big guns. … We just have to make sure that we’re executing the things that we do that minimize the things that they do.”
In order to beat the Tigers, the Elis know it has to start with their passing and serving. In their win against Princeton last year, the Bulldogs registered eight aces and held the Tigers to just a .143 hitting efficiency. Yale also recorded just two receiving errors in the match, which allowed setters Franny Arnautou ’20 and Kelsey Crawford ’17 to operate in system for the majority of the contest; the duo combined to post 40 assists in the match, compared to Princeton’s 31.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs will look to complete a season-sweep of a Penn team that has recently stepped up its game. After losing their first five matches in Ivy play, the Quakers defeated Columbia and Cornell, taking down the Lions in straight sets while dropping just one to the Big Red. Despite its loss to Princeton this past weekend, Penn will look to regain momentum against Yale.
“Penn has some made some adjustments to their lineup and is playing really well right now,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “They have two really good outside hitters that [have been averaging] three or four kills per set. They’re pretty good at the net.”
However, the odds are stacked against the Quakers, as Yale has outperformed Penn both offensively and defensively throughout the year. While Penn ranks second to last in kills and assists, Yale claims second overall in both of these categories. The Elis also rank second in opponent hitting percentage, while Penn ranks last. In the Bulldogs’ first match against the Quakers earlier this season, they held Penn to a paltry .061 hitting efficiency, while the Elis registered a .287 mark.
If the Bulldogs sweep Princeton and Penn this weekend, they will not only secure the top position in Ivy League standings but will also be in a position to win the conference title. With a successful 2–0 weekend, the Bulldogs would need to win just three of their remaining matches to capture a share of the Ancient Eight championship.
“We want our team to just be as aggressive and positive-minded as possible and see this as an opportunity,” Laseau said. “We tell [our players] that every game [is] a opportunity to play great volleyball. … [Princeton] is just the next team on the schedule.
The Bulldogs will host Princeton on Friday at 6 p.m. in John J. Lee Amphitheater before taking on Penn at 5 p.m. the following afternoon.
Ruiyan Wang contributed reporting.
Ellen Margaret Andrews | firstname.lastname@example.org .