Courtesy of Steve Musco

Yale (15–4, 9–1 Ivy) climbed to the top of the Ivy League rankings after defeating reigning conference co-champion Princeton (15–6, 8–2 Ivy) and Penn (5–16, 2–8 Ivy) this weekend. The Bulldogs remain undefeated at John J. Lee Amphitheater this season.

On Friday, the Bulldogs triumphed after sparring point for point with the Tigers in a five-set nail-biter. With a steady backline, the Elis stayed in system and launched a successful offense against Princeton, the top-ranked defensive team in the conference. The win comes after Princeton dealt the Bulldogs their only loss this year one month ago. Yale returned to the court the following afternoon to secure a win against the Quakers in a decisive three sets.

Emerging from the weekend, the Bulldogs stand alone as first place in the conference.

“I think our success this weekend really stemmed from a mentality shift more than any strategic or technical adjustments,” setter Franny Arnautou ’20 said. “Collectively, we decided that first and foremost, we were going to be the aggressors and go after every point. Rather than sit back and wait for the game to come to us, we went and took what we could, and I think that helped us out in a huge way.”

In the first two frames against Princeton, the Elis relied on consistent passing and offensive firepower to stymie Princeton’s squad of returning veterans. Outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 recorded a career-best performance on Friday, contributing nearly half of Yale’s kills in the first two sets. Wirth converted on 24 swings and contributed an otherworldly 25.5 points for the entirety of the match. Yale took the first set 25–23 and the second frame 25–15.

However, defeating Princeton was no small feat, and the Tigers rallied during the third and fourth sets. The Elis also suffered a lull in energy during the third frame, giving the Tigers the opportunity to rack up points. After a tied score halfway through the set, Princeton went on a nine-point run and secured the set by a hefty 10-point margin. With help from a lineup of returning hard hitters, including reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Maggie O’Connell, Princeton also won the fourth frame, though narrowly, at 25–23.

“I’m a little disappointed that we stepped off the gas a bit during the third set. But then again I was proud that we could come back in the fifth set to such a good start,” said head coach Erin Appleman. “We had the momentum, we lost the momentum, and then we got it back.”

After forcing the Elis into a fifth set for the first time during this conference season, Princeton ultimately lost — largely due to their own unforced errors. The Tigers collectively recorded 11 missed serves and 29 hitting errors. On the other hand, the Bulldogs finished the 15-point fifth set with an ace by libero and captain Kate Swanson ’19 in the last five points of the game. Swanson also had 22 digs in the match. The Bulldogs stole the final frame 15–13.

“I think the Princeton match was a battle from the start to the finish,” Appleman said. “There was definitely things that we could have done better. … I felt like power-wise, we were pretty even with them, and it was really going to come down to serving and passing.”

Coming off of the victory against Princeton, the Bulldogs extended their winning streak to seven the next afternoon against Penn. The Quakers are currently tied for last in the conference with Brown, a team that Yale defeated the weekend prior.

The Elis made quick work of Penn, sweeping the Quakers in three sets. Middle blocker Samantha Bray ’22, who was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week going into the weekend, had a standout performance. Bray led the team with 11 kills and just one error, making for an impressive .556 hitting efficiency.

The Bulldogs’ consistent and aggressive serving also contributed to the team’s success on Saturday. The team recorded eight aces — double the number that Penn collected — with three different Elis contributing two untouchable serves apiece.

When asked about the key to the Yale team’s success this season and this weekend, associate head coach Kevin Laseau credited the Elis’ diligent preparation.

“It all starts in the gym. We’ve had great practices in the weeks leading up to this, just really good competition when we’re doing teamwork and certain drills,” Laseau said. “I think it’s been that focus in the gym.”

The final score lines of the match against Penn were 25–21, 25–17 and 25–22.

With four remaining matches in the season, the Bulldogs will soon return to the road once again after three weekends at home. According to team members, the Elis hope to keep up their energy both in practice and during their games.

“We’ve been working very hard focusing on each rep in practice and working to translate that to fight for every point in games,” Swanson said. “I think that definitely showed in those long rallies [against Princeton]. We still have a lot to work on, but I am so proud of the way we were all able to come together this weekend and get the two wins we needed.”

Yale returns to the court this weekend with back-to-back away games against Harvard and Dartmouth.

Ruiyan Wang | .