By David F. Pendrys [Official Box Score from Yale Athletics]
NEW HAVEN, CT – The Yale Women’s Volleyball team fended off a late charge by the Columbia Lions to sweep their match Friday night at Payne Whitney Gym. The decisive Game 3 went beyond the normal point limit as the two sides battled back and forth before Yale finally took it 31-29.
Game 1 began with the teams trading points, but Columbia picked up a slight lead. Yale kept pace, but still trailed by a couple points. Yale closed the gap to tie it a few times, but Columbia reached an 18-16 advantage leading to a time out by the Bulldogs. It worked as the home squad took three straight points off two Columbia errors and a block from Kelley Wirth and Shreya Dixit. Columbia’s prolific scorer, Anja Malesevic unleashed a Kill off the Yale blockers to tie it back up, but Dixit responded tipping the ball over the net and flummoxing the defenders to regain the lead. Malesevic struck again to tie it, but Izzy Simqu answered smacking the ball off a Lion and out of play. Simqu would win a fight for the ball at the net with an opponent and send it down for another point, and Kaitlyn Gibbons launched a cross court Kill to make the lead 23-20. Columbia called time and would manage two more points, but those came opposite a blast from Simqu and a Kill by Kathryn Attar to end the game 25-22. Yale had posted a 77% hit percentage in the opening frame, and Columbia had a 70% hit rate.
“I think we had some great moments when were really clicking and executing our game plan and what we’ve been working on all week. Definitely had a few moments that we wish we could sharpen up and have back, but definitely glad to get the win,” Yale Setter Fanny Arnautou said of the night.
Game 2 was more in Yale’s favor. The home team surged to a 6-0 lead before Columbia even got on the board including two Aces from Wirth. Columbia climbed back into it with some help from Yale errors, and soon it was 10-8. The Lions lost their momentum when they blocked a Wirth attack out of bounds, and Wirth and Dixit blocked a Columbia attack on the next point. The visitor’s would commit an error putting the Yale lead at 13-8 and at that point Yale started rolling. Wirth struck three times in succession with spikes of varying velocity. Gibbons placed a cross court smash just in bounds, and Simqu’s spike bounced off a defender and way out of play against the wall of the gym. She then blocked an ensuing Columbia attack to create a 10 point lead. Columbia mustered a few more points, but Megan Rasmussen ended it eventually with a Kill for a 25-14 game win. Columbia hit 37% during a rough game for them, and Yale hit 66%.
Game 3 would prove to be a wild climax to the evening, as Columbia built a lead making it to 16-12. Yale called time and swung the momentum back their way off an error by the Lions, two Simqu kills, and one from Gibbons. The visitors called time out and got the momentum back themselves with 3 straight points including a smack from Malesevic off the hands of a Yale defender.
Gibbons however nailed a ball off a blocker and out of play, and she then stepped back and served up an Ace that froze the defense. The Bulldogs then sent two straight attacks out of bounds and Columbia was back up 21-18. Yale called time and regained the momentum as substitute Tristin Kott launched a shot into a gap, and following a very long volley back and forth the Lions hit the antenna on a return. Yurika Boyd then served up an Ace as the Columbia reception failed and the score was tied at 21.
The two teams traded points, with Malesevic, and Natasha Kosowicz for Columbia, and Wirth and Rasmussen heavily involved in the scoring. The teams reached a 25-25 tie meaning the game would continue beyond the traditional 25 point mark until a team lead by two points. The two sides tensely kept going to a 28-28 mark, then a 29-29 mark. Kott slashed the ball into a gap in the Lions defense for a 30-29 advantage. With the match on the line the visitors sent an attack out of play and that was that. Yale won the game and the match. Yale had hit 58% it he final frame, and Columbia posted a 54% hit percentage. Yale would hit 66% for the entire match and Columbia 54%.
When asked how the team approaches those tense extra point situations Yale Captain Kelsey Crawford outlined their strategy. “We stay confident in ourselves, we look to each other for trust and support, and we just really dig deep and stay urgent but calm, and we just keep playing our game.”
Yale Head Coach Erin Appleman explained why she thought Game 3 was a closer affair.
“I don’t think we came really well after the ten minute break,” she said. “The first couple points were kind of all our errors. I don’t think we were very clean, I don’t think we played very clean at all except for set 2…game 1, game 3, we weren’t as good as we should have been,”
When asked what she said to the team to keep them focused in the extended point period Appleman recounted that, “I didn’t have any more time outs, there’s not much I can say, except for kind of yelling, ‘hey let’s get this done.’ They were nice they missed three serves during those extra points, and we still couldn’t capitalize on it. ‘Just keep pushing, just keep pushing, it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen.’ Just telling them to believe in each other.”
Offensively, Wirth led Yale with 11 Kills while hitting for .292. “Wirth is really steady now, does great things,” Appleman said. She had 2 Blocks shared with other teammates as well, and served up two Aces.
Simqu posted a .500 hit percentage on her way to ten Kills, with many, as noted above, at critical times. She also had 2 solo Blocks and four more with her teammates. “Izzy Simqu had a great night both hitting and blocking, she was really good tonight,” Appleman said of her day.
Gibbons was third on the team with 9 Kills while hitting for .350, and also serving up an Ace, as well as sharing 3 Blocks with fellow Bulldogs. “I think Gibbons who is just starting to start for us had a great first couple of sets. Played really really well. Passed unbelievable all night long,” Appleman expressed of her performance.
Megan Rasmussen had 5 Kills while hitting for .250.
“Megan Rasmussen and Kaitlyn Gibbons, and Izzy Simqu had wonderful games. They were aggressive the entire time…hit great,” Crawford said in praise after the game. “We just want aggressive players out there that are going to take chances,” she added.
Shreya Dixit, who has worked her way into the starting lineup, had the same offensive numbers as Rasmussen as well as two shared blocks. “Early in the season, the connections weren’t there,” Appleman said but explained Dixit made appearances in recent games and “every time she’s come in on the court she’s done a really good job, so we decided to go with her tonight and she was really good,” the Head Coach continued.
Kott posted 3 Kills in her substitute roll, but it they were essential. “Kott came into the middle of the end of the match, swung fabulous.” Crawford observed. “Tristin’s been a starter all year. We kinda went with a different lineup,” Appleman explained. “But she’s been really dependable and I had all the faith in the world she was going to be able to go in there and crack a couple balls. It was great.”
Arnautou had 40 Assists on the night as she was connecting with the various Yale attackers throughout. “It went great,” she said. “Our middles really got going, and that just makes my job and everyone’s job a lot easier, opens up a few holes for other hitters, once they showed up, slammed a few balls, we had a good night offensively.”
Kate Swanson led the Bulldogs with 14 Digs and also was serving when the team went on their early run in Set 2.
Malesevic had 14 Kills for Columbia, and Kosowicz and Luciana Del Valle each had 6. Audrey Cheng led the team with 27 Assists, and she also had the team’s lone Service Ace. Cheng and Kalie Wood had 10 Digs apiece. Rose Compton had 1 solo Block and four shared with Malesevic.
Despite the victory and Yale’s wins against three Ivy Teams so far, when evaluating Yale’s progress Appleman was blunt about a need for improvement. “I wasn’t really pleased with our performance tonight. I am all performance based. So wins and losses are great, but to me it’s about performing and I think we need to perform at higher level. So I’ve seen bits and pieces of that, but I think overall we need to be a lot sharper.”
Crawford was upbeat about the team’s growth. “I think we’re doing great, we’re working as a team, our chemistry is amazing, we’re swinging aggressively, digging balls, you know we’re just getting better everyday in practice,” Crawford.
It looks like despite the Yale’s success and given some of their struggles, they have not hit their ceiling yet.
Yale rises to 9-4 and 3-1 in the Ivy League with the win and faces Cornell Saturday. Columbia drops to 5-8 and is 0-4 in Ivy play.
Head Coach Erin Appleman
Captain Kelsey Crawford