Bulldogs Host Brown to Open Ivy League Schedule on "Team Up to Fight Cancer" Weekend

Team captains Sophia Merrifield, Julia Mailander and Julia Weiser (photo by Erin Appleman)

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. – With the non-conference season in its rearview mirror, the Yale volleyball team can now turn its focus to the ultimate goal for the 2009 campaign, repeating as Ivy League Champions. The first Ivy League test for the 10-1 Bulldogs will be Brown, which visits the John J. Lee Amphitheater on Friday at 7 p.m. Yale enters the contest in the midst of a six-match winning streak and, dating back to last season, an eight-match winning streak in Ivy League contests.

Team Up to Fight Cancer
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the volleyball team has combined efforts with the field hockey and women’s soccer teams this October for the first-ever “Team Up to Fight Cancer” initiative. The teams will be selling t-shirts for $10 and collecting donations at home athletic events throughout the weekend of Oct. 2, including Friday's volleyball contest, to benefit the Yale Cancer Center, with the proceeds being designated for breast cancer research.

That's 1 A.M. Saturday If You're Watching in Stockholm
Thilda Soderstrom, the runner-up in the 2009 edition of Swedish Idol, will be singing the National Anthem prior to Friday's contest. Soderstrom, the overall winner of the 2002 World Championship of Performing Arts in Los Angeles, will be stopping at the John J. Lee Amphitheater en route to singing at Citi Field on Saturday prior to the Mets' baseball game.

Last Time Out
Yale swept Central Connecticut State, Quinnipiac and Binghamton last weekend to win the Yale Classic. Senior Alexis Crusey was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by junior Kelly Ozurovich and freshman Haley Wessels.

Starting Strong
A win against Brown would match the best start in Yale volleyball history at 11-1. The 2005 Bulldogs won 11 of their first 12 matches en route to a 20-4 finish. Yale’s current 10-1 tally signifies the best non-conference mark for a Yale squad since 2001, when the non-conference schedule was shortened in favor of a 14-match Ivy League slate.

Scouting the Bears
After having their three-match winning streak snapped at Bryant on Saturday, the Brown Bears enter the Ivy League season with a record of 4-7. The Bears rank fifth in the Ivy League with a .158 hitting percentage through 43 sets of action, while opponents are swinging at a .194 clip, which slots the Bears’ defensive effort at sixth in the Ancient Eight. Brown leads the Ivy League with 1.86 service aces per set, with four players ranking in the individual top 10 in that category. Junior Megan Toman leads the Brown offense with 2.56 kills per set. Toman and junior Brianna Williamson (2.47 kills per set) have combined to take nearly 40% of the Bears’ swings. With a .234 hitting percentage, junior Danielle Vaughan has been Brown’s most proficient attacker. Sophomore Spencer McAndrews runs the Bears’ offense, distributing 7.06 assists per set, and freshman Carly Cotton fortifies the defensive effort with 4.70 digs per frame, the fifth-best average in the Ancient Eight. Brown is the second-worst blocking team in the Ancient Eight with 1.51 blocks per set. Vaughan leads the Bears’ blocking effort with 27 total blocks, including 10 solo stuffs.

Bulldogs vs. Bears
Friday’s match will be the 50th all-time meeting between Yale and Brown, with the Bulldogs holding a 31-18 edge in the series. Yale has won the last six encounters, sweeping the series in each of the last three seasons, and has taken the last seven matches with the Bears at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. The Bulldogs have swept Brown in the Elm City in four consecutive seasons. Head Coach Erin Appleman is 10-2 all-time against the Bears. Her Yale teams have only defeated Columbia (12-0) and Harvard (11-2) more often than Brown.

In the Year 2008
Alexis Crusey averaged 5.71 kills and 4.43 digs per set in two meetings with Brown last season on Oct. 3 and 4, en route to earning Ivy League Player of the Week honors. Former Bulldog Ally Mendenhall ’09 dished out 12.43 assists per frame in the season series and Cat Dailey averaged 3.00 kills and 3.00 digs in the first two matches of her Ivy League Player of the Year campaign. Laurel Casey got the start at libero for Yale in both matches and averaged 4.14 digs per set, including 16 digs at home against the Bears, which remains her career high to date. In total, nine current Bulldogs played in at least one of the matches with Brown last season.

On Crusey Control
One of the most dominant players in the Ivy League for the past three seasons, outside hitter Alexis Crusey started her senior campaign on the right track, grabbing All-Tournament Team honors at both the Yale Invitational and the American Volleyball Classic and taking Most Valuable Player laurels at the Yale Classic. Her performance at the Yale Classic also merited Ivy League Player of the Week honors. Crusey, a three-time first team All-Ivy honoree, is currently ranked in the Ancient Eight top 10 in both kills per set (eighth, 3.17) and digs per set (10th, 3.37). The unanimous 2006 Ivy League Rookie of the Year ranks sixth in Yale history with 1,128 kills and ninth in digs with 1,038 entering this weekend.

The Wizard
On the heels of back-to-back All-Tournament caliber performances, junior Kelly Ozurovich sits on the brink of a milestone with 995 career digs. Ozurovich, an All-Ivy honoree in both of her seasons at Yale, leads the Ivy League and ranks fifth in all of Division I with 5.94 digs per set this season. She is averaging a stellar 7.38 digs per set during the Bulldogs’ current six-match winning streak. She has landed on the Ivy League Weekly Honor Roll in each of the past two weeks.

Cat Power
Senior outside hitter Cat Dailey, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, has picked up where she left off in 2008 by earning Most Valuable Player nods at both the season-opening Yale Invitational and the Seton Hall Invitational. Dailey hit a sizzling .487 with 4.88 kills and 3.38 digs per set at the Yale Invitational, a performance for which she was also named Ivy League Player of the Week and garnered national attention as a CVU.com Top Performer. She also averaged 3.89 kills and 4.22 digs per set while posting double-doubles in all three matches at the Seton Hall Invitational. On the season, the Newport Beach, Calif. native has averaged an Ivy League-leading 4.16 kills and 0.40 service aces per set. Dailey is also in the Ancient Eight top 10 in hitting percentage (fourth, .301) and digs (ninth, 3.44 per set).

Homecoming Queen
Playing in her home state of New Jersey, senior Laurel Johnson hit a commanding .424 (29-4-59) as the Bulldogs swept a trio of matches on Sept. 18-19 to win the Seton Hall Invitational. The Cherry Hill, N.J. native earned All-Tournament and Ivy League Player of the Week honors on the back of averaging 3.22 kills per set and amassing a tournament-best 1.22 blocks per set.

The Ministry of Defense
As potent as the Yale offense has been thus far in 2009, the Bulldogs’ defense has certainly done its part in guiding the squad to a 10-1 start. Yale currently leads all Ivy League teams in digs (18.82 per set), blocks (2.32 per set) and opponent hitting percentage (.115).

Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Yale’s straight-set win over Binghamton last Saturday marked the Bulldogs’ third victory this season against an opponent that was selected to win its conference in the preseason coaches’ poll. The Bearcats, representing the America East Conference, join Fairfield from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and the Patriot League preseason favorite, American University, on the Bulldogs’ hit list.

This Is Our House
Yale is 6-0 in home matches this season and has won its last eight matches in the John J. Lee Amphitheater dating back to 2008. The Bulldogs were 9-1 in the Elm City last season, including a 6-1 home record against Ivy League competition.

Getting Back on Track
With the Bulldogs’ sweep of Hofstra on Sept. 18, Yale has now won six straight matches following a loss. Yale was last defeated in consecutive matches in September 2008 at the Penn State Classic against the eventual-National Champion Lady Lions and Saint Louis, a team that finished last season ranked at No. 21 in the nation.

High School Heroines
PrepVolleyball.com, the Internet’s first and only website dedicated to covering club and high school volleyball on a national level, selected the Yale Class of 2013 as a High Honorable Mention in its annual rankings of the nation’s top recruiting classes, as determined by a panel of over 100 collegiate coaches. The Yale class of 2013 consists of Anya Cekauskas, Kerry Clavadetscher, Julia Cortopassi and Haley Wessels. Two of the four Ivy League recruiting classes to ever receive High Honorable Mention status have been Yale squads. The Bulldogs’ Class of 2010 (current seniors Alexis Crusey, Laurel Johnson, Julia Mailander and Lydia Mailander) also earned the distinction in 2006.

On the Court and in the Classroom
The American Volleyball Coaches Association has announced that the Bulldogs are among the recipients of the AVCA Team Academic Award. The award has been presented annually since 1993 to collegiate and high school volleyball teams that have displayed excellence in the classroom during the school year by maintaining at least a 3.30 cumulative team grade-point average.

Trend Setters
Yale is the only Ivy League volleyball program to notch a win in the NCAA Championships. The 2004 Bulldogs, the first Ancient Eight squad to host an NCAA Championship match, knocked off Albany in five sets to tally the first postseason win in conference history. The 2008 Yale team then defeated Ohio in the University Park (Pa.) Subregional to become the first Ivy League team to win an NCAA Championship match away from its home court.

State Troopers
Including the sweeps of Fairfield, Central Connecticut State and Quinnipiac this season, the Bulldogs are 96-29 all-time against opponents from the state of Connecticut. Yale’s most frequent opponent from the Nutmeg State has been the University of Hartford, against whom the Bulldogs are 21-3. The University of Connecticut has had the most success against the Bulldogs among in-state rivals with a 12-4 advantage in the series. Head Coach Erin Appleman is 11-2 versus the Constitution State, with both losses coming at the hands of the Huskies.

Beaten By the Best
The Bulldogs’ record-setting 2008 season ended in the NCAA Championship Second Round at the hands of No. 1 Penn State. The match, which was held on the Lady Lions’ home court, was the 34th consecutive sweep for the eventual national champions, who dropped only two sets all season en route to a 38-0 finish. In total, five of Yale’s six losses in 2008 came at the hands of teams that advanced to the NCAA Championship tournament.

2009 Schedule Notes
The 2009 schedule consists of 13 home matches and 12 road matches…The Bulldogs’ non-conference slate includes four opponents to whom they have never lost (Binghamton, Quinnipiac, Seton Hall, Virginia Tech), and an opponent they have never beaten (American)…Colorado and New Jersey Institute of Technology are both first-time opponents for Yale…Under Coach Appleman (2003-present), Yale has only played five of its 2009 non-conference opponents (Binghamton, Central Connecticut State, Georgetown, Hofstra, Quinnipiac). The Bulldogs are a combined 7-0 in those matches…Hofstra (Sept. 18) is the only repeat opponent from the 2008 non-conference schedule…Yale will only play two matches at the American Volleyball Classic (American and Virginia Tech). The fourth team at the event, NJIT, will challenge the Bulldogs the following weekend at the Seton Hall Tournament… Last season, Yale and Brown played a home-and-home series to open Ivy League play. This year, the series is split as the first and last matches of the Ancient Eight schedule…The Bulldogs will play three in-state opponents (Central Connecticut State, Fairfield, Quinnipiac), the most Nutmeg State foes they have challenged since 2005. Yale did not face any Connecticut squads in 2007 or 2008.

Beach Blanket Broadcast
The Bulldogs relocated their morning practice on Friday, Aug. 28 from the friendly confines of the John J. Lee Amphitheater to scenic Hammonasset Beach in Madison, Conn. The defending Ivy League Champions hit the sand at Meig’s Point with the crew of the Fox 61 Morning News as a part of the “Zip Trip” segment, which highlights Connecticut-based attractions. Coach Appleman and members of the Yale team fielded questions from anchor Jeff Valin, while host Logan Byrnes took a few practice swings with the team.

No Rest for the Weary
The Ivy League schedule continues next weekend at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. The Penn Quakers, who will travel Princeton this weekend for the Ivy League opener for both teams, come to New Haven on Friday, Oct. 9 for a 7 p.m. tilt. Penn was the only Ivy League team to defeat the Bulldogs in 2008. After a match at Brown on Friday, the Tigers from Princeton descend upon the Elm City on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 4 p.m.

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report filed by Drew M. Kingsley, Yale Sports Publicity