Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Last weekend, the Yale volleyball team (5–1, 0–0 Ivy) continued its winning ways with a spectacular performance at the Syracuse Tournament. The Bulldogs won the event after defeating all three of their opponents, including the hosts.

On Friday, Sept. 9, the Elis opened the tournament with a gritty five set match-up against Army (4–6, 0–0 Patriot), which Yale won 3–2. Just a few hours after, the Bulldogs managed another impressive win, this time a 3–0 sweep against tournament host Syracuse (4–5, 0–0 ACC). On Saturday, Yale wrapped up a winning weekend by taking out the brooms once again against Hofstra (3–8, 0–0 CAA), sweeping the Pride 3–0. Coupled with a 2–1 record at the Seminole Invitational the week before, the Elis are looking strong in non-conference play.

“I am really, really proud of what our team did this past weekend at Syracuse,” captain and setter Renee Shultz ’23 said. “In the face of different challenges and adversity, we really stayed focused and grounded, ultimately playing good, sound volleyball. It’s not easy being on the road and traveling for a long time. When it came to it, we were up against big competition. [Last week] we were able to really do some incredible stuff … It makes me proud of the team and where we’re at, as well as really excited to see how we continue to progress as the season goes on.”

The Bulldogs kicked off the tournament with a hard-earned win against Army. The last time the two teams faced off was in 2019, when the Elis swept the Black Knights in New Haven. This encounter, Army looked to prove itself. 

The Blue and White had a good start, winning the first set 25–20. However, the Black Knights fought back and clinched a 25–20 win of their own in the second frame. A back-and-forth battle ensued between both teams, as Yale won the third set and Army won the fourth. However, the Bulldogs were able to win the match with a strong fifth frame, which they won 15–11 while hitting .368. 

Though the Army defense was strong, with the Black Knights having more blocks than the Elis, Yale was able to surpass its opponent offensively. The Bulldogs had more kills and were dominant at the serving line with 11 aces. 

“This year, we all kind of have the mindset that everyone is here to contribute,” outside hitter Audrey Leak ’24 said about the team’s recent offensive success. “We are here to work together and cooperate. A lot of different girls can come in and hit. We all have this mindset that we are here to dominate and can change the game.”

Just a few hours after its gritty victory against Army, Yale faced another formidable opponent: Syracuse. The two squads have a heated history. Prior to last Friday, the Elis had never won a match against the Orange. The most recent match-up between the two teams took place in the 2021 Yale Invitational, where Syracuse swept the Bulldogs. In 2018, the Orange had also broken the Bulldogs’ perfect record in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Going into last weekend’s match-up, Yale sought to change the narrative. The Bulldogs had a strong start, winning the first set by hitting .286 and limiting the opponent to a .154 percentage. In the subsequent frames, the Orange attempted to launch comebacks and reduced the point margins between the two teams. However, the hosts eventually fell short against the smooth Eli offense. Yale swept Syracuse 25–18, 25–23 and 25–22.

Renee Shultz, who is one of the few on the team to have experienced both of Yale’s past losses against Syracuse, emphasized the significance of the moment. She already considered the win to be “one of the highlights of the season.”

“We’ve come full circle from the 2018 NCAA playoff games and [the match in 2021],” the captain said. “I couldn’t be more proud to see how this program has progressed. To not only grab a win, but a sweep, against an ACC team is pretty awesome. Coming off a five set battle with Army, it was exhausting … It was a very quick turnaround [to then face Syracuse] … We really [dug] deep to find the energy and intensity we needed to play hard. I think the energy in the gym also became a big factor in how we played … Ultimately, it worked in our favor.”

The Bulldogs wrapped up a winning weekend with another sweep over Hofstra 25–22, 25–15 and 25–22. The Elis were a menace at the net and limited their opponents to a mere .072 hitting percentage. More dominance at the serving line, culminating in eight aces, also helped propel the Blue and White to victory.

Setter Carly Diehl ’25 and Leak were named to the all-tournament team after stellar individual performances. Diehl had also been named to the all-tournament team at the Bulldogs’ first tournament of the season, the Seminole Volleyball Invitational. Outside hitter Cara Shultz ’25 was named the tournament MVP. She hit .257 last weekend, with 10 ace serves, 34 kills and 41 digs. 

“It definitely feels really good and I am grateful for it,” Cara Shultz said about the recognition. “But at the end of the day, it really is not about [individual awards]. Any given person on our team could have gotten that award. I’m very grateful that whoever made that decision gave it to me, but there are so many girls on our team who should have deserved it as well. Last weekend was a team effort through and through.”

The Blue and White will now look to bring their momentum with them back to New Haven, as they prepare to host the Yale Invitational. This will be the Bulldogs’ first opportunity of the season to play at home. Yale will face Villanova, Fordham and Sacred Heart.

After the tournament, the team will also open the Ivy League season with three straight weekends on the road. The Yale Invitational will serve as a welcome reprieve from the grind of multiple consecutive away games this season.

“I’m excited to be back in front of our fans,” Leak said about the upcoming week. “We haven’t gotten a chance to play at home yet. I really missed the feeling of being back in Payne Whitney and playing in front of my friends. I think my parents are also coming up this weekend. I am just excited to be at home and in our own court.”

The Bulldogs currently have a .233 hitting percentage and average 13.43 kills per set.

Wei-Ting Shih covers baseball, volleyball and women's basketball as a staff reporter. Originally from Taiwan and Nicaragua, she is a sophomore in Grace Hopper College double-majoring in Ethics, Politics & Economics and History.