Yale Athletics

The Yale volleyball team wrapped up yet another tournament on the road, this time picking up its first win of the season against Howard and forcing No. 20 USC to five sets.

In its second away weekend in a row, the Bulldogs (1–5, 0–0, Ivy) battled it out against the more competitive teams of the Trojan Invitational in Los Angeles. The Elis narrowly lost 3–1 in tight sets against Villanova (7–2, 0–0 Big East) on Friday morning. That evening, the Bulldogs rallied to go hit for hit with No. 20 USC (5–3, 0–0, Pac-12), forcing the Trojans to five sets and narrowly losing yet again. On Saturday, the blue and white cleanly swept Howard (2–9, 0–0, MEAC) 3–0, wrapping up the series on a high note with the Bulldog’s first win this season.

“This past weekend was both challenging and rejuvenating,” outside hitter McKenzie Cooke ’21 said. “We faced teams that yet again put up great competition and tested our ability to make quick turnarounds from our match Friday night to our two matches on Saturday. On the other hand, 10 of our players are from California, so we had the privilege of enjoying time on the coast and seeing many of our biggest supporters: our families.”

Far from New Haven, the Bulldogs battled three teams in their second away tournament of the season and came away with a 1–2 record. On Friday morning against Villanova, the Elis fell in the first set 25–20 but came back to even the match at one apiece with a 25–23 win in the second set. The Wildcats bounced back to claim the third set. The Elis forced their foe into extra points during the deciding set but narrowly succumbed 29–27.

Senior Rebekah Nemeth ’20 led the attack with 17 kills. Senior setter Franny Arnautou ’20 proved critical to the offense with 40 assists, while junior libero Yurika Boyd ’21 held up the defense with 16 digs.

In a quick turnaround, the Bulldogs faced off with the host team Friday evening. The nationally ranked Trojans looked to defend their home court, but a heroic performance from Yale led to a nailbiter, five-set duel.

USC took the opening set 25–23, but close rallies and point-for-point action foreshadowed trouble ahead for the home team. The Bulldogs defeated them 25–21 in the second set, making the Trojans the fourth Power Five team the Elis have earned a set against this season.

USC fought back in the third, winning 25–21, but the Elis were not finished. The Bulldogs went on a fourth set tear, defeating the ranked opponent 25–18 in a critical fourth set to tie the game at 2–2. In an adrenaline-ridden fifth frame, the Pac-12 top dogs battled with the Ivy League defending champions to a 15–11 tie-breaker, narrowly avoiding the upset.

Arnautou organized the offense, tallying an incredible 48 assists, while Boyd defended with 17 digs. Outside hitter Ellis DeJardin ’23 contributed to the defense for 12 more, while Nemeth, captain and middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 and DeJardin combined for 37 kills. Arnautou and middle blocker Samantha Bray ’23 also combined for eight blocks against the No. 20 Trojans.

“Our team just really came together and rose to the opportunity,” Simqu said. “We didn’t overthink anything and just played our game and really went for it. We really had nothing to lose against such a highly ranked team, so we played without pressure and fought really hard.”

Following a riveting first day, the Bulldogs hit the court against Howard on Saturday and cleanly defeated the Bison in straight sets 25–17, 25–22 and 25–20. The victory marked the first win for the Elis this season.

Against the Bison, DeJardin defended the floor with 16 digs, while Bray stood tall for another four blocks at the net. Arnautou set for another 28 assists, making her total for the weekend an astounding 116.

The Bulldogs are currently 1–5 on the season, but four of those losses came from Power Five schools. In two of those losses, the Elis forced their competition into five sets, proving their ability to compete at the top level.

Yale appears primed and ready to host its first tournament this upcoming weekend with matches against Stony Brook, Army and Sacred Heart.

“The team is so excited about Ivy League play,” Simqu said. “We’ve had a tough, competitive preseason, and although we only have one win under our belt right now, the last two tournaments have proved that we can compete against any team, and we’re going to bring that to the Ivy League. The game plan for next weekend is to play every game like the USC match. Going for it, fighting hard and trusting each other.”

The Elis take on Stony Brook Friday at 7 p.m. in New Haven.

Cate Sawkins | cate.sawkins@yale.edu