After the Yale volleyball team swept Dartmouth last Friday, the Bulldogs fell to rival Harvard in an unexpected twist to complicate the season — pushing the Elis into second place behind Princeton.

The Blue and White (12–7, 8–2 Ivy) entered Saturday match confidently after defeating the Big Green (7–13, 2–8) casually over three sets — 25–18, 25–20 and 25–16. Registering a 0.320 hitting percentage compared to Dartmouth’s 0.149, the Bulldogs outplayed the team from Hanover in every aspect of play. With significantly fewer errors and several more kills per set than the Big Green, Yale set the pace for the matchup from the very first point. In their stint against Harvard the following day, however, the Elis suffered a significant increase in errors which weakened their play. The reigning Ivy League champions went down fighting 3–1.

“The loss was obviously extremely tough this weekend,” captain and middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 said. “Every team in the Ivy League wants to beat us, so we just need to come out swinging and ready to fight back. Our mindset is to stay focused and get hungrier. We know how talented we are, we just need to execute.”

Right side Rebekah Nemeth ’20 and middle blocker Samantha Bray ’22 guided the offense through the matchup against the Big Green, with Nemeth tallying 11 kills with a 0.611 hitting percentage and zero attack errors. Bray added 10 kills and four blocks, and the pair contributed 12 points each to the overall score. The contest started out fairly even, with both teams trading points until the Elis broke away with 16–14 edge. After extending its lead to 19–14, the Blue and White gained enough momentum to eventually finish off the first set 25–18. The second and third sets progressed in a similar fashion, with the Bulldogs gaining a significant point advantage roughly halfway through each set.

The Bulldogs led early on in the first set against Harvard, increasing the score to 15–11 before the Elis made five errors over six points. With both teams on fire, the score steadily increased on either side until Harvard clinched the set in extra points 30–28. Though Yale bested Harvard by two in kills, the Elis put up a 0.078 hitting percentage to the Crimson’s 0.233.

“We were fine for a while, and then we just made some unforced errors that ended up getting Harvard back into the match and we couldn’t quite catch them — they got on a roll. I don’t know how many [teams] would have beaten Harvard the rest of the match — they got really good.”

After losing the second set 25–20 mainly due to a similar hitting percentage deficit, the Bulldogs were unwilling to relent and swung back in the third to emerge victorious. The Blue and White clinched the win by decreasing their number of errors; the third set contained five in comparison to the first set, in which the Elis registered 13. Bray posted a season-high 20 kills over the course of the matchup.

Harvard finally took advantage of its 2–1 lead and concluded the match in the fourth set. The two conference foes traded leads, and the score remained quite close throughout the game. Eventually, the Crimson improved to 20–18 and proceeded to only give up two more points to the Elis. Harvard outblocked Yale 14–5 which contributed significantly to its victory.

According to head coach Erin Appleman, going into the weekend, the Bulldogs played as though fearful of a loss, and now they must play to win.

“I feel like every match is a must-win situation anyway, so our backs are against the wall,” Appleman said. “In some ways, it takes some pressure off of us.”

Despite the loss, the Elis have historically come back from multiple conference losses during a season. 2017 produced the Bulldogs and the Tigers as dual Ivy League champions. Yet, earlier in the same season, Princeton, Harvard and Penn all celebrated victories over Yale. Thus far in the 2019 campaign, the Bulldogs have only fallen to Princeton and Harvard.

Prior to this past Saturday, the Blue and White were tied for first while Harvard and Dartmouth were tied for last place in the Ivy League. After Princeton defeated Cornell, the Tigers stand at the top of the current rankings, while Yale and the Big Red are both in second.

“As of right now, we aren’t too focused on what or how the other teams are doing — it’s the Ivy League so we know every game matters equally,” outside hitter Kathryn Attar ’21 said. “Because of this, we’re completely locked in to this weekend’s competition, and we’re going to take it one game at a time.”

Next weekend, the Bulldogs hit the road for the final two travel games during the regular season. They face Cornell and Columbia on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Margaret Hedeman | margaret.hedeman@yale.edu