In its last road trip of the season, the Yale volleyball team (17–4, 11–1 Ivy) swept both Harvard (5–7, 10–11) and Dartmouth (5–7, 10–13), extending their winning streak to nine games — their longest winning streak since 2012, when they won a remarkable 15-straight matches.
Following a bitter loss to Princeton just over a month ago, the Elis rebounded in astounding fashion last week and have been the dominant force in the Ancient Eight ever since. Yale has been especially impressive at home, having only lost two sets in John J. Lee Amphitheater this season. But the Bulldogs have also been dominant forces on the road — they cemented their fifth and sixth away wins in commanding fashion this past weekend. Still, envisioning an ever stronger team, Yale head coach Erin Appleman hopes that her squad will continue to improve.
“We always talk about continuing to get better, and in both matches this weekend, there were things that we [could have been] better at,” Appleman said. “So we’ll focus on ourselves a lot next week and … on the things we can do to get better … We have a lot of personnel, and there’s been ups and downs to different people’s play, so we’re just trying to focus on being at the same level all the time.”
In their first match of the weekend, the Bulldogs faced a Harvard team fighting to overcome the absence of starting setter Bella Almanza, who had to sit the game out due to injury. Despite the disadvantage, the Crimson nevertheless presented a challenge to the Elis. During the early stages of the game, Harvard matched the Bulldogs’ energy, and the first half of the starting set saw nine tied scorelines. But the Crimson ultimately struggled to stifle the Yale effort. The Elis took the first set by a score of 25–18 after a series of runs.
Unlike the first frame, the Bulldogs put Harvard away early in the second set. Despite hitting a mediocre .156 in the frame, the Elis capitalized on tough serving and a string of Crimson errors to leave Harvard clambering for momentum. Libero and captain Kate Swanson ’19 went on a seven-point serving run early in the set and was also pivotal in maximizing Yale’s opportunities at the net by passing with her usual remarkable consistency. The Elis finished off the Crimson in the second frame by an eight-point margin.
“We started out a little shaky [in the match],” Yale associate coach Kevin Laseau said. “We had a couple of bad decisions and mistakes that let Harvard back into it, but overall we stayed steady and were able to correct some of our earlier ‘goof-ups.’”
In the Bulldogs’ third-set triumph over Harvard, setter Franny Arnautou ’20 shined, putting up an other-worldly 19 assists. Arnautou contributed 44 assists on the day — the most in three sets by any setter in the Ivy League this season.
Six of Arnautou’s assists in the third frame went to outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19, who hit with a remarkable .387 efficiency in the match and registered three block assists along the way. Though Harvard continued to compete with resilience, the Elis stunted the effort, winning the final frame 25–20.
“[Wirth] is playing with a new level of confidence,” Laseau said. “She’s a freak athlete, and so when she’s in the flow of the game, driving hard, and reaches [for a high ball], it’s like a bird of prey circling around, and [she] just dives in for the kill. She’s just been letting her physical abilities take over — it’s been great to see.”
The following afternoon, the Elis bookended the weekend with another win against Dartmouth. Though the Bulldogs put the Big Green away in just three frames, each set was determined by fewer than five points. With the hard-won victory, Yale maintains a one-match lead atop conference standings.
Early on in the match, outside hitter Ellis DeJardin ’22 set the tone for the opening frame against Dartmouth. The rookie, fresh off of leading the team with a .533 efficiency against Harvard, put away the first three points with consecutive kills. DeJardin posted a double-double, converting on 12 swings for the game and contributing 10 digs. The Bulldogs took the frame 25-21.
“This weekend I think we did a great job staying composed and working together in those tight moments,” said Swanson. “We still have a lot of things to get better at, but I think that is what makes this season so exciting.”
The second set was closer than the first, as Dartmouth jumped to an early four-point lead. However, the Bulldogs caught up to the Big Green midway through the frame, and the two teams sparred for points until reaching a tied scoreline at 22-22. With characteristic firepower, the Elis managed to post three kills in the final four points, with two from outside hitter Kathryn Attar ’21. Attar registered 16 kills on the match and collected 12 digs, also posting a double-double.
In the final frame against the Big Green, several Bulldogs made contributions, testifying to the versatility and depth of Yale’s roster. Middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 notched three kills and two blocks for the frame. Meanwhile, hitters Shreya Dixit ’19 and Rebekah Nemeth ’20 also saw the court, despite playing only four and six matches this season, respectively.
“We have a really deep bench, and a successfully good, deep bench,” said Appleman. “We have people that have started for me on the bench right now, and so I’m very comfortable calling a lot of people’s names and seeing them add what we need at the time.”
However, both teams struggled to establish an offensive rhythm and avoid unforced errors. The Elis recorded 15 unforced mistakes, while the Big Green had eight. After nine tied scorelines, the final frame against the Big Green went into overtime. The Bulldogs narrowly clinched a 26-24 win.
Hoping for more consistent play and to continue its winning streak at the top of the Ivy League, Yale returns for its final conference slate against Cornell and Columbia at home this weekend.
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