Bulldogs Go Down Swinging, Drop Four-Setter to Utah in NCAAs

McHaney Carter. (photo by: Christopher Shannon)
McHaney Carter. (photo by: Christopher Shannon)

After Fourth Straight Ivy Title, Bulldogs Fall Short Against Pac-12 Opponent

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The four-time defending Ivy League champion Bulldogs came out swinging in the NCAA Tournament and gave the Pac-12's Utah all it could handle in a hard-fought 3-1 loss Friday night at Rec Hall.

The Bulldogs won the first set and nearly took the third, in a match that was tied 25 different times and featured 11 lead changes, and offered many heart-stopping, pulsating moments.  The scores of the match were 27-29, 25-15, 26-24 and 25-16.

"I just want to say how proud I was of our team's effort tonight," Yale head coach Erin Appleman said.  "I thought we competed extremely tough. Utah is a very good team, and plays a little bit of a quicker ball that we are used to, and I thought we did some nice things that we have been working on all week, and just played really hard, and I think we were right there in a couple of the games, and had chances to win." 

Yale (20-5, 13-1 Ivy), making its third-straight NCAA appearance, started on fire. The Bulldogs hit .380 in the first set with 21 kills and only two errors on 50 swings.

Kelly Johnson, a sophomore hitter and two-time All-Ivy First Team selection, had a match-high 16 kills, hit .500 and added 10 digs.  Johnson had eight kills on 10 swings without an error in the opening set. 

Swinging fearlessly against Utah, the ninth-best blocking team in Division I, the Bulldogs raced out to an 17-12 lead in the first.  The Utes (21-12, 9-11 Pac-12) came back to tie the set at 22 and take the lead on the next point.

Then, the Bulldogs made big plays in a big spot.  Senior McHaney Carter tied the set and Johnson followed with a kill to give Yale the one-point edge.  

Utah would have set point twice, only to be denied both times by freshman Brittani Steinberg, a second-team All-Ivy selection. Steinberg tied the set at 26, and broke a 27-all tie before Kendall Polan set up Maya Midzik to put the set away.    

Steinberg finished with 10 kills.

Polan, the first-ever three-time Ivy Player of the Year, assisted on 20 of Yale's 21 kills in the first set and finished with a match-best total of 49. 

"I am really proud of how we played. I am not happy with the outcome, but I could not ask for any more from the girls from our team," Polan said. 

The Bulldogs' defense stepped up against a representative from one of the nation's top volleyball conferences. 

Maddie Rudnick finished with a match-high 24 digs, including nine in the first set, while Carter finished with six total blocks.  Freshman Tori Shepherd added eight digs.

Utah took the second set, and Yale almost grabbed the third, which showcased nine tied scores and two lead changes.  

The Utes led 15-11, and Yale responded again.  The Bulldogs scored three of the next four points with two kills from Rogers and one from Johnson to cut the Utah lead to 16-15.  

"She was unbelievable," Appleman said of Johnson.  "She was fearless. She just went up, and hit hard, and swung hard, and we just kept trying to get her the ball more and more, and I was really thrilled with the effort that she made. We made a change with her. She was running a six-two earlier in the year, and then we changed her to just a right side hitter, and I think it worked out pretty well." 

Rogers continued to have the hot swing - both serving and attacking.  Down 17-15, Rogers delivered another kill, then followed up with an ace - one of six on the night for the Bulldogs - to tie it at 17.  Rogers finished the match with 13 kills and nine digs.  

The set went back and forth.  Facing set point, Yale responded again.  

After a Yale timeout, Midzik notched a kill to tie the set at 24.  

Yale finished the season with its fourth straight Ivy title, its fifth in six years and reached the 20-win mark for the first time since 2009. 

Carter, Polan and fellow senior Erica Reetz earned the winningest four-year mark in the Ivy League history with a 51-5 conference record during their time at Yale.  

"There aren't many athletes in the country that have had that much success," Appleman said.  "Hopefully the players we have coming back can help take us to that next level."

Report filed by Ernie Bertothy, Yale Sports Publicity