On Saturday, the Yale volleyball team captured sole ownership of the Ivy League Championship, winning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The victory marks the Bulldogs’ seventh conference crown in the last nine years.
In 2017, Yale (19–4, 13–1 Ivy) also secured a share of the conference title alongside co-champion Princeton. However, the Bulldogs missed the opportunity to represent the Ivy League at the Big Dance after losing a one-game playoff against the Tigers. But now, with back-to-back titles under their belt, the Elis have proved that they are a force to be reckoned with. Yale went 13-1 in conference games this year, finishing the season undefeated at home and on an 11-game winning streak.
“For all of our hard work and preparation this season — from our spring and summer workouts, to grueling three-a-day preseason practices in the middle of New Haven August, to daily scouting and practicing — to culminate with an outright title is utterly gratifying,” setter Franny Arnautou ’20 said.
Even before conference play started, the Bulldogs were eager to defend their title. The team primed its season with rigorous preseason tournaments: The Elis played then-No. 10 University of Central Florida in its final nonconference weekend. Additionally, during preseason training, the team added depth to its versatile roster by welcoming five rookies to the program.
In the first weekend of Ivy play, the Bulldogs hit the road for three consecutive weekend slates away from John J. Lee Amphitheater. From the start, Yale’s newcomers proved to be integral to the success of the team. During the season opener against Brown, outside hitter Ellis DeJardin ’22 recorded a double-double in the first conference match of her collegiate career. Posting a .283 hitting efficiency, Yale swept the Bears in straight sets.
“We are super excited to get the chance to play in the NCAA tournament,” DeJardin said. “And we will be working hard for the next two weeks to make sure we represent Yale volleyball to the best of our abilities.”
The Bulldogs extended their winning streak to three after making quick work of Penn in three sets the following Friday. Handily winning each of the frames, Yale never trailed the Quakers. In the opening set, the Elis won 25-10 and held the Quakers to a dismal minus .097 efficiency.
Hoping to redeem themselves after the disappointing playoff game that ended their 2017 season, the Bulldogs hit the court the next day to face Princeton. Yale’s defensive line put up a valiant effort during the match. Captain and libero Kate Swanson ’19 led the team with 20 digs on the game. But Princeton’s offensive weapons posted a remarkable .315 efficiency for the contest, and the Eli effort ultimately came up short. Yale fell to the veteran-led Tigers in four sets.
Looking to recover from the disappointing loss to the Tigers, the Elis powered through a notoriously difficult away slate the following weekend, going 2-0 against Columbia and Cornell. In both games, the team relied on the leadership of Arnautou to convert on kills and make smart plays at the net. The setter dished out 32 and 38 assists against the Lions and the Big Red, respectively. Clocking in 10.76 assists on average per frame, Arnautou also comes in second in the league for assists per set.
The Bulldogs finished the first half of their season at home, where they swept both Dartmouth and Harvard in three sets. Against Dartmouth, Yale collected a victory with consecutive score lines of 25-19. The team followed the win with another triumph against the Crimson, which proved to be a much closer game. Yale relied on tough and consistent serving to take the match with narrow score lines of 26-24, 25-23 and 25-23.
“We’re very good defensively, and we’re very good on serve and pass. If you can serve and pass, you’re going to be in virtually any match,” associate head coach Kevin Laseau said. “[Head Coach Erin Appleman] does a good job of making sure everyone understands that what is important, is what we’re doing … Reestablishing what our focus is and what our priorities are makes it easier to play a team that is really good.”
To kick off the second half of the season, Yale swept Brown once again, this time at home. With the win, the Bulldogs extended their winning streak to five and improved to 7-1 in the Ivy League.
On Oct. 26, 2018, Yale played its rival Princeton in a much anticipated home match. After the bitter loss to the Tigers in September, the Elis were hungry for redemption. After a five-set nailbiter, the Bulldogs secured the win in the fifth and final set. With the victory, Yale took sole possession of first place in the Ivy standings. Yale also had a remarkable offensive showing for the game with outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 contributing an otherworldly 24 kills.
“I am so proud of every single teammate of mine for their contributions and grateful to be associated with such a cohesive, talented, selfless, loving group of women,” Arnautou said. “We are all savoring this feeling as well as looking forward excitedly to representing the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament.”
After the game against Princeton, the season continued smoothly for the Bulldogs. On Saturday evening, Yale swept Penn, solidifying a home game streak of 8-0.
In the final stretch of the season, the Bulldogs hit the road for their final away slate. For the second-to-last weekend of the conference season, Yale defeated both Harvard and Dartmouth in three sets apiece.
The Bulldogs played their final two games against Cornell and Columbia at home. The Bulldogs went 3-0 against Cornell. Yale then won its final game against Columbia in four rounds. With the win against Columbia, the Bulldogs secured the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
“We are super thrilled that we were able to execute … [and] secure the outright Ivy League championship,” Yurika Boyd ’21 said. “It was amazing to celebrate the seniors and to have all of the alums there as well. We are always working to get better and can’t wait to bring our game to the NCAAs.”
Moreover, the team also celebrated the contributions of the five seniors on the roster: Gray Malias ’19, Wirth, Kate Aitkenhead ’19, Shreya Dixit ’19 and Swanson. Captain Swanson and Wirth had a particularly phenomenal finish to their Yale careers.
“[Our goal] is to wreak as much havoc in the tournament as possible,” Laseau said. “We’re not happy just being there. We want to stir it up. We’re looking at this part of the season as another opportunity to do great things. We don’t see any reason why we can’t come in and really make some noise for the Ivy League.”
The team will find out its placement in the tournament when the field is announced on Sunday, Nov. 25 at 8:30 p.m.\
Ellen Margaret Andrews contributed reporting.
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