VOLLEYBALL: Bulldogs achieve triumphant start to season
After winning its first two matches of the season, the Yale volleyball team looks to build on its momentum at the Syracuse Tournament this weekend.
Last weekend, the Yale volleyball team (2–1, 0–0 Ivy) kicked off its season in impressive fashion at the Seminole Volleyball Invitational in Tallahassee, Florida.
The Bulldogs won their first two matches of the season. On Friday, the Blue and White shook off their preseason rust with a 3–1 win against Florida A&M (0–7, 0–0 SWAC). That same day, Yale built on its momentum and swept James Madison University (4–2, 0–0 CAA). However, the Bulldogs faltered against tournament host Florida State (6–1, 0–0 ACC) on Saturday, losing 0–3.
“Our cohesiveness was good,” volleyball head coach Erin Appleman said about the team’s performance in the Sunshine State. “I thought our trust in each other was good. What we need to improve on are just some tactical things there and there.”
All teams in the invitational were first-time opponents for the Bulldogs. This unfamiliarity was evident in the Elis’ first set against the Rattlers, which Yale dropped 28–26 after a gritty battle in extra points. However, the Bulldogs were able to bounce back and tame the Rattlers in subsequent sets, which featured increasingly wider point margins between the two teams.
Yale won its next three sets 25–23, 25–15 and 25–13. The Blue and White wrapped up the match with a hitting percentage of .308, while limiting their opponents to one of .145. As was the case last year, the Bulldogs continued their dominance at the serving line, producing 11 aces in the game against the Rattlers.
“I think the Florida A&M win was pretty significant,” Appleman said. “It found us coming back, and we got better and better as the match went on. The score reflected that and I was really proud of us getting over being nervous in our first game and being able to get the win.”
Glowing from their first win of 2022, the Bulldogs entered the second match of the day with confidence. With just a couple hours rest between games, Yale emerged victorious from its match-up against JMU, achieving its first sweep of the season. After establishing an early lead in the first set, the Bulldogs never looked back, winning 25–13, 25–13 and 25–16 against the Dukes. The Elis outmatched their opponents in all offensive categories and hit .474.
On Sunday, the Blue and White fell against the formidable Florida State Seminoles, a competitive squad which ranks among the best in the Power Five ACC. In the ACC preseason poll, FSU was picked to finish fifth in the 15-team conference. Although the Bulldogs demonstrated their mettle, the hosts broke Yale’s six-set win streak as it lost 25–15, 25–11 and 25–11.
The Bulldogs wrapped up a strong weekend in Florida as the second best team in the Seminole Invitational. They were able to better integrate new players, improve their teamwork and solidify their fundamentals in preparation for conference games. As a team, the Elis made 130 kills, 110 assists and 18 ace serves last weekend. There were also many outstanding performances, such as that of Cara Shultz ’25, who made 15 kills against Florida A&M and hit .389 against JMU.
“Going into [last] weekend, we had some good practices,” Shultz said when asked about her individual performance. “It’s really a good feeling to show that [the practices] are really paying off. Working hard with a different group of girls is always a challenge in preseason, but I thought we did a really good job of meshing well. Everyone put up some good stats this weekend and I am not surprised [about that] because we’ve all just been working pretty hard.”
Setter Carly Diehl ’25 and middle hitter Gigi Barr ’25 were named to the tournament All-Star team due to their outstanding individual contributions to the Elis’ success.
Barr, who missed much of last season due to injury, had 27 kills and hit .345 last weekend, while Diehl had 96 assists, 25 digs and 14 kills.
“Carly ran a really good offense and our transition volleyball was spectacular,” Appleman said. “Gigi was just always up in the middle and was on the receiving end of a lot of sets. She also had a fabulous hitting percentage of a weekend and continues to get better.”
However, Appleman expressed pride for the team’s overall high level of play, stating that she “was thrilled with everyone who played [last] weekend.” She also highlighted the performances of Shultz, as well as outside hitters Mila Yarich ’25 and Audrey Leak ’24, adding that the three of them could have also been named to the All-Tournament team.
This weekend, the Bulldogs will look to expand upon their early success as they travel to New York for the Syracuse Tournament, where they will square off against familiar teams. Yale will open the tournament with a game against Army (2–5, 0–0 Patriot), a team the Bulldogs have won against in each of their last four encounters. That same day, the Elis will look to get revenge against bitter rival Syracuse (3–3, 0–0 ACC), a squad which broke the Bulldogs’ perfect record in 2018 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and has won against Yale twice in the past. On Saturday, the Blue and White will play against Hofstra (2–5, 0–0 CAA). Though Yale has won its past two games against the Pride, the last time the two squads had faced off was in 2009.
“Syracuse is going to be a huge test of adaptability,” middle blocker Fatima Samb ’25 said. “We learned exactly what needs to be done from the FSU Tournament and we’ve now got a few days of practice to turn those things around. We will face off against more amazing teams at this tournament, and we are super excited to play and show what we’ve got.”
The first match of the Syracuse Tournament against the Black Knights will take place on Friday, Sept. 9 at 2:00 p.m.