While a defeat at Princeton for the Yale women’s volleyball team stripped the Bulldogs of an NCAA tournament bid, the Blue and White have much to celebrate.

Before Thanksgiving break, John J. Lee Amphitheater hosted an inspiring comeback win for the Elis (15–8, 10–2 Ivy) against Princeton (17–7, 10–2). The Bulldogs entered the match-up as the underdogs; the Elis fell 3–0 to the Tigers several weeks prior, and Princeton held the best record in the Ivy League. Against the odds, Yale clinched a victory in five sets which tied these two Ancient Eight foes’ conference records and split the Ivy title between the Bulldogs and the Tigers. This win represents the 10th league championship crown under head coach Erin Appleman and 11th total. The championship title caps another challenging, suspenseful and ultimately successful season for the Elis.

“Of course, I wish the outcome had been different in our final playoff game and I wish I could have played with every single teammate a little longer,” captain and middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 said. “However, at the end of the day, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have played with the women of Yale volleyball for four seasons and unbelievably proud of what we were able to accomplish.”

Yale’s record at the start of the season did not foreshadow its ultimate success. The Elis commenced play in Indiana and California, where they competed in two tournaments consisting of three games each. The Blue and White stumbled, falling five times before celebrating its first victory against Howard in California 3–0.

Despite the rocky beginning of pre season, the losses did not come without a fight, as the Bulldogs registered at least one set on the board in each game. Most significantly, the Elis forced then-No. 20 Southern California into five sets before the Trojans edged out the underdogs 15–11 in the final set.

“I was nervous back in August … everything seemed up in the air,” Simqu said. “But then, we had this preseason, and yes it was tough, and yes, we lost almost every game, but there were these great moments, like taking USC to five games, that gave me so much pride and confidence in the team we had built. I think our challenging pre season translated well into our Ivy League season.”

With momentum from the Howard victory and confidence on their home court, the Elis blew through Stony Brook, Army and Sacred Heart in New Haven to set the stage for Ivy play. The Bulldogs extended their winning streak to eight, defeating Brown, Harvard, Dartmouth and Penn before Princeton decisively bested Yale 3–0. The Tigers posed as the Elis’ biggest rivals this season — Princeton holds the most volleyball Ancient Eight crowns and won its last outright title in 2016.

The Elis regained composure after their loss to blow through then first place contestant Cornell, who had already beaten the Tigers. Though the Bulldogs appeared strong, they knew that there was a long road ahead.

“We still have to focus on ourselves, and we have to continue to get better,” Appleman said halfway through the season. “Part of playing everybody twice is that [they] are going to be better the second time you play them.”

The second half of the regular season witnessed the Bulldogs fall unpredictably to Harvard 3–1 on the road. This loss put the Elis in a precarious position — another loss would likely cost the Blue and White the Ivy title. The crown ultimately came down to the final regular season game held in New Haven in which Yale bested Princeton 16–25, 25–22, 18–25, 25–21, 17–15 for a share of the 2019 Ivy League championship title.

“As our coach always says, it’s not just the ‘big’ games that win you the championships,” Simqu said. “It’s all of them, and I think this 2019 team pushed each other to play with the utmost confidence and energy in each match.”

The co-champions faced off yet again in a playoff game for the automatic NCAA tournament bid, this time, in Tiger territory. Though the Elis defeated Princeton for the first set of the game, the Tigers narrowly clinched a 23–25, 25–21, 26–24, 25–15 win over the Blue and White. This will be the eighth appearance for Princeton in the NCAA Tournament, yet the Tigers have yet to win a game on this national stage while the Bulldogs have done so twice. Princeton will compete against Penn State in Pittsburgh for the first round of the Tournament.

Despite losing the automatic qualification, the Bulldogs are looking forward to facing the challenges that will come next year.

“We have worked extremely hard all season and, although things did not end exactly how we had hoped, we’re still incredibly proud of everything we have accomplished — especially another Ivy League title — and we’re already looking forward to what this spring training and next season will bring,” setter Renee Shultz ’22 said.

The Yale volleyball program won their first Ivy League title in 1978 and did not receive the crown again until 2004. Since then, the Bulldogs have clinched the title nine more times.

 

Margaret Hedeman | margaret.hedeman@yale.edu