The Yale volleyball team defied the odds on Saturday night, defeating Princeton 3–2 for the Bulldogs’ third consecutive Ivy League Championship title and 11th overall for the program.
Entering the weekend ranked second to the Tigers (16–7, 10–2 Ivy), the Bulldogs (15–7, 10–2) defeated Princeton 16–25, 25–22, 18–25, 25–21, 17–15 for a share of the Ivy crown in front of over 800 spectators at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. Though the Ancient Eight foes traded the first four sets, the Elis clinched the victory after recovering from a 10–6 deficit in the fifth. The Blue and White closed out the season with an undefeated home record.
“Inexplicable. Astounding,” assistant coach Kevin Laseau said. “I’ve been here 15 years, and that ranks as one of the most dramatic finishes we’ve ever had. I literally didn’t know what to do with myself afterward. I think I ran around screaming? As to what I saw from the sidelines, I saw composure and resilience from our gang. We just kept coming back. They’d win a game, we’d respond. They win again, we respond. We simply refused to stop.”
For the second time in the 2019 season, Yale would claim victory despite falling in the first set. Though the Blue and White led for the first 20 points, Princeton broke away with a six point streak which set the score at 15–10 in favor of the Tigers. This momentum catapulted Princeton to a 25–16 decision. For the Elis, this set showcased an even more disheartening start than their 25–19 defeat in the first set during an October match-up against the Tigers.
The second set witnessed four lead changes, the most significant of which occurred when the Bulldogs came back swinging to lead 22–21 after being down 21–17. When Princeton hit the 20-point mark, the Elis had only an 18 percent chance of clinching the set, according to the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports. Yet, the Blue and White finished off with a 25–22 victory.
“I know we had a rocky start, but this team proved that under any circumstances we can fight through anything and play our true Yale volleyball as long as we trust each other, trust ourselves and play with our utmost confidence,” captain and middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 said. “I think we knew that [the first set] wasn’t us, that’s not who we truly were as volleyball players, so we knew that those mistakes that we made were fixable. We just had to flush the first game, get our confidence back and roll with it.”
The conference leaders split the next two sets, with Princeton winning the third and Yale capturing the fourth.
Stretching Princeton to a fifth set — the winner being the first team to reach 15 — it appeared hopeless for the Elis as they trailed 10–6 following a time-out. Though the Bulldogs managed to tie it up at 11–11, three kills for the Tigers placed the score at a precarious 14–12. At this point, there was an 88 percent chance that Princeton would win the fifth set, the match and the Ivy title outright. Outside hitter Ellis DeJardin ’22 registered two consecutive kills for the Blue and White to tie the score, and the game would ultimately be decided by an attack error on the Princeton side. DeJardin led the team in kills, registering 14, and the California native was recently named to the CoSIDA All-Academic District Team.
While this match marks the end of regular conference play, the Bulldogs and the Tigers will reconvene at Jadwin Gymnasium in Princeton to compete for the automatic NCAA Tournament bid next Friday. Though the game will be played in the Tigers’ hometown, the gymnasium is considered neutral turf since Princton usually hosts at the Dillon Gymnasium.
For 2018 Ivy League Coach of the Year Erin Appleman, the victory marks her 10th Ivy League Championship since she assumed the position of head coach in 2003.
“I’m so proud of the team, and they demonstrated such fight and drive,” Appleman said. “They competed at a really high level tonight. We started trusting each other and believing in each other. We stuck to the game plan and started executing.”
Saturday also represented senior night for four Bulldogs — Simqu, setter Franny Arnautou ’20, right side hitter Rebekah Nemeth ’20 and outside hitter Tristin Kott ’20. Arnatou, the 2018 Player of the Year, has contributed 2,671 career assists and has been the top Yale setter for all of her four years as an Eli. Nemeth, despite missing part of the season due to injury, remains on this year’s leaderboard for kills and blocks.
Each member of the Ancient Eight, besides Penn, records only 12 conference matches on their records rather than the usual 14. Following the termination of Penn’s season due to offensive signs posted in their locker room, games played against the Quakers count as non-conference matches.
While Yale suffered a five-game losing streak in the beginning of the preseason, sustaining these tough defeats gave the Bulldogs the edge that they needed against a loud Ivy League crowd. The Elis fell only twice following their loss to the University of Southern California in September — once to Princeton 3–0 and once to Harvard 3–1.
Though the Tigers posted a higher hitting percentage for three out of five sets as well as a greater number of kills, Yale out-blocked Princeton 14 to 7. The 2019 result marks the second time in three years that the Bulldogs and the Tigers have split the championship title.
“We had an incredible crowd,” Kathryn Attar ’21 said. “The energy was so great, from the team from the crowd, from the parents. I really think that we wanted it so much more, and it showed in our play. After the two sets we lost we talked about what we did wrong, but we didn’t really dwell on it. We kind of just focused on what was working and what was going to continue to work. Then, we agreed to do that: focus on what we are doing well and what we can continue to do well. Versus, what’s going on, what’s going wrong and what we can’t fix.”
The co-Ivy League champions will square up next Friday at 7 p.m. in Princeton.
Margaret Hedeman | firstname.lastname@example.org