The Yale volleyball team remains in hot contention for a share of the Ivy League title following victories against Cornell and Columbia over the weekend.
After rival Harvard (5–16, 3–9 Ivy) upset the Elis (14–7, 10–2) a week ago, the road to the Bulldogs’ third consecutive conference championship looked rocky. It had been less than a month since their first league loss against Princeton, and two defeats on their record pushed the Elis to second place. Undeterred by the defeats and aiming to preserve their record, the Blue and White fought back this weekend in New York, ultimately besting Cornell (16–5, 9–3) 3–1 and Columbia (11–11, 4–8) in straight sets. Entering Friday’s matchup, both the Bulldogs and the Big Red were tied for second place, settling significant attention on Yale’s 26–24, 25–23, 22–25, 25–20 victory over Cornell.
“I think the difference this weekend was that we played with so much confidence,” captain and middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 said. “We walked into Cornell and Columbia knowing that we had the talent and ability to win, and we showed that on the court. I think this weekend also reminded us that we’re in control of our own destiny, and we know how to dominate.”
The Friday matchup started out slow for both teams, with Yale barely edging a 0.078 hitting percentage to the Big Red’s nil in the first set. The Elis did not gain control of the set until the final few points. Facing a 22–24 deficit and what seemed like defeat, outside hitter Kathryn Attar ’21 and setter Franny Arnautou ’20 secured consecutive kills to tie it up at 24–24. Two Cornell errors finished off the set in favor of the Bulldogs, 26–24.
This early success propelled the Elis into the second set, where they led throughout, before finishing off 25–23. However, the Big Red was unwilling to give up in three straight sets and managed to clinch a win in the third. Cornell outside hitter and sophomore Jillienne Bennett led the Big Red in kills, registering four — 1.49 over her season average.
A solid last set showcased the greatest margin of victory for the Elis: 25–20.
“Volleyball is a game of errors, so the team with [fewer] errors wins,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “It’s part of volleyball. You play three out of five, so you know you might win a set, you might lose a set … you just have to stay on course and keep trusting each other.”
Curiously, the Big Red outscored the Elis in kills and aces over the course of the game, despite the final score. To gain the upper hand, the Bulldogs posted just 23 total errors to Cornell’s 29.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs swept the Lions 25–23, 25–16, 25–19. Despite Columbia’s star player Chichi Ikwuazom hitting a match-high 17 kills, the Yale defense held the Lions to a mere 0.092 hitting percentage. Ikwuazom now sits in ninth place on the record board for number of single-season kills in the Ivy League, with two more matches left in the season. Notably for Yale, Rebekah Nemeth ’20 tallied 11 kills and three blocks. Nemeth has produced double-digit kills for the past four straight matches.
“It took us a game to kind of figure out the timing to block [Ikwuazom], and then we were able to make some incredible digs against her and also block pretty well against her,” Appleman said. “It’s a pretty quick turnaround and not a lot of time between Cornell and Columbia. We were able to kind of [say] ‘Ok, this is what we have to do. We have to focus for the next few hours and take care of this.’ We were able to do that.”
With an end to their three-week-long travel saga, the Bulldogs return to the John J. Lee Amphitheater this weekend against Penn and Princeton. The Tigers, ranked first in the league, represent the greatest hurdle the Bulldogs must overcome for the chance at the Ivy title. Granted that both teams continue to win before this final matchup, a victory for the Elis would result in a shared crown between Princeton and Yale.
The victory on Saturday marked the fourth consecutive sweep over Columbia for the Bulldogs.
“Our matches this weekend were really fun, and there was lots of great energy both on and off the court,” setter Renee Shultz ’22 said. “All week we had been preparing for our last weekend on the road, and when it came time to play, we were determined and locked in.”
The Bulldogs square off against Penn on Friday at 7 p.m. and finish off their regular season against Princeton on Saturday at 5 p.m. in New Haven.
Margaret Hedeman | firstname.lastname@example.org