Courtesy of Steve Musco
With just four conference matches remaining and the Ivy League title still up for grabs, the Yale volleyball team is in a pivotal stretch of the season. Still, on Wednesday, each member of the roster hit the court to practice in full Halloween garb. The Bulldogs are out to prove that if you are fighting for a championship, you have got to have fun doing it.
The Elis (15–4, 9–1 Ivy) will hit the road for the first time in three weeks to take on Harvard (10–9, 5–5) and Dartmouth (9–12, 4–6) for their final weekend on the road. Currently, the Bulldogs are riding a seven-game win streak — their longest string of consecutive conference victories since 2014. After defeating reigning conference co-champion Princeton and Penn last weekend, the Bulldogs hold sole possession of first place in Ivy standings. If Yale wins three out of its remaining four contests this season, the team will secure at least a share of the title, extending its reign as Ivy League champions.
“We’re not looking at the wins behind us, what we’re really doing is concentrating on what’s in front of us,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “We have a saying on our team that is ‘every one and every rep.’ It means everyone is equally important and so is every rep. We’re just concentrating on the very next rep and very next play.”
Just two weeks after taking down the Crimson in straight sets at home, the Bulldogs will face Harvard this Friday. The Crimson is fresh off a split weekend: After defeating Columbia, the team dropped the following match against Cornell in four frames. The last time both teams met, the Elis overcame an 11-point deficit in the third set to seal a sweep over the Crimson. The Bulldogs relied on tough serving and smooth defensive play in the final rallies of the match to cap off the comeback. Confident attacking from outside hitter Ellis DeJardin ’22 was also integral to the victory, as the rookie posted 17 kills in the match.
This season, Harvard has struggled to mount an effective offensive attack -— the Crimson currently ranks last in the conference for hitting efficiency and kills. But the team still boasts one of the strongest hitters in the Ivy League — middle blocker Christina Cornelius has been a team leader for the Crimson since her standout rookie campaign. This season, the veteran continues to be the centerpiece of the team’s attacking unit. Cornelius ranks sixth in the conference for points per set, averaging a 3.60 mark that accounts for aces, blocks and kills.
“We’re looking at ourselves and what we need to get better at,” Appleman said. “We feel that we need to be more aggressive offensively. … [Harvard’s players are] pretty big and have a lot of different offensive threats, but I think it always comes back to what we are going to bring to the table.”
In their match against Harvard, the Elis will look to build on the facets of their game that account for much of their success in conference play. The Bulldogs pride themselves on their versatility and poise, which have been evident in the strength of their backline as well as the ferocity of Yale’s attack. The Elis’ veteran leadership — which includes the Ancient Eight’s top-ranked libero and team captain, Kate Swanson ’19 — combined with a contingent of high-energy rookies has also solidified Yale’s recent dominance.
In the Elis’ most recent contest against Dartmouth, Yale swept the Big Green in straight sets at home. In the match, the Bulldogs hit at a .305 efficiency compared to Dartmouth’s .163. In particular, rookie weapon and middle blocker Sam Bray ’22 posted a .389 efficiency with double-digit kills. Coming off the Penn-Princeton sweep, Bray was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week for the second week in a row.
Despite overpowering the fourth-place Big Green at John J. Lee Amphitheater, the Elis will still head into the match with the same tenacity and grit that the team brings on a week-by-week basis.
“We definitely make sure [our team] understands that everybody has talent and something that they do well,” associate head coach Kevin Laseau said. “All teams here are dangerous in one manner or another. I think we do a pretty good job after one match getting back to the next and knowing it doesn’t matter what our record is or how we’ve done. You still have to put in the work and take it seriously each time out.”
The Big Green, like Harvard, split last weekend’s slate of conference games, defeating Columbia and losing to Cornell. However, the team posted a 3–0 result during a mid-week match against Bryant and registered an outstanding .458 team hitting efficiency in the opening set. Dartmouth also leads the conference in blocking, averaging 2.56 per set. Yale is second in the category with an average of 2.45 blocks per frame.
The contests against Harvard and Dartmouth also represent Yale’s final slate of away games this season, after benefitting from home court advantage for three straight weeks.
“We are looking forward to this road trip and have been practicing hard all week to prepare,” libero Yurika Boyd ’21 said. “The team is very motivated and hopes to make the most of our remaining Ivy League games.”
The Bulldogs will play Harvard and Dartmouth at 7 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Saturday, respectively.
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