Penn, Princeton Stand Between Yale and Ivy League Title

Nov. 13, 2008

NEW HAVEN, Conn.- When the 2008 Ivy League volleyball schedule was released this past summer, it consisted of 56 total matches. But even before a single ball was served in the 2008 campaign, many people found themselves focused on just three of those 56 contests: a trio of matches pitting Yale, Penn and Princeton against each other in the final week of league play. Four months later, on the eve of that pivotal weekend, Yale, Penn and Princeton find themselves as the three remaining contenders for the Ivy League Championship.

The Bulldogs (17-4, 11-1 Ivy) boast the most easily explained path to the crown: win and they are in. Victories over both Penn and Princeton, a task much easier said than done, would give Yale sole possession of its third Ivy League Championship in program history. There are also several scenarios in which Yale could earn a share of the title.

The Yale offense has been led by a slew of weapons in the 2008 campaign. The Bulldogs have been the most efficient team in the Ivy League with a .257 hitting percentage and rank second in kills with 13.76 per sets. Yale also leads the Ivy League in service aces with 1.69 per set.

Anchoring the attack is junior Alexis Crusey, who ranks second in the Ivy League in kills with 3.84 per set. At 10th in digs with 3.46 per set, Crusey is the lone Ivy League player in the top ten in both categories. The two-time All-Ivy first team honoree also ranks as eighth in the league in hitting percentage at .276. Crusey has slammed at least 36 more kills and racked up at least 196 more attempts than any other player in the top ten. She also finds herself in the top ten in service aces with 0.29 per set, good for eighth in the league.

Junior Cat Dailey, who spent her two collegiate seasons at California-Berkeley, has been one of the most electrifying newcomers to the Ancient Eight this season. Dailey ranks second on the Bulldogs and fourth in the Ivy League in kills with 3.61 per set. She is also fifth among all Ivy League players with an average of 0.31 service aces per set. The Newport Beach, Calif. native is on the heels of a weekend where she hit a scorching .500 in six sets of action, slamming 27 kills on 54 attempts without committing an attack error.

A quartet of Bulldogs has stepped up as key players in the Bulldogs' multi-pronged attack. Juniors Julia Mailander and Laurel Johnson and freshmen Taylor Cramm and Bridget Hearst have each posted nine kills or more in a match this season. Cramm and Johnson both rank in the top ten in the Ivy League in hitting percentage with marks of .283 and .267, respectively.

The potent Yale offense is run through its captain: senior Ally Mendenhall. Mendenhall has been the third-most prolific setter in the Ivy League, distributing an average of 10.54 assists in 70 games of action this season. The Bulldogs' captain has also nabbed 57 opportunistic kills on 142 attempts.

Defensively, sophomore libero Kelly Ozurovich leads the Bulldogs' effort. Ozurovich leads the squad with 4.22 digs per set, the fourth-highest average in the Ivy League. Crusey, Dailey and Mendenhall also each contribute 2.74 digs or more per set. At the net, Cramm leads the way with 54 blocks, which slots her at second in the Ancient Eight behind fellow freshman Kelly Hansen from Cornell. As a team, the Bulldogs average just over two blocks per set.

Yale has won six straight matches since falling to Penn in five sets on Oct. 18 at the John J. Lee Amphitheater in New Haven. The Bulldogs, who have not dropped a set since that first match with the Quakers, have won 13 of their last 14 matches overall. Yale is 5-0 in Ivy League road matches this season.

Like Yale, Princeton (16-3, 10-1 Ivy) controls its own destiny enter the weekend, though the Tigers' road is one step longer than the Bulldogs'. Princeton must defeat Brown on Friday, Yale on Saturday and Penn on Wednesday in the final match of the Ivy regular season to win the Ivy title outright.

Princeton boasts a bona fide multi-pronged attack, led by the two most proficient attackers in the Ivy League. Lindsey Ensign owns the league's best hitting percentage at .411, while Cathryn Quinn ranks second, hitting at a clip of .363. Ensign also ranks eighth in the league with 3.16 kills per set. Parker Henritze, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, ranks sixth in the Ivy with 3.33 kills per set, and also tops the Ancient Eight with 0.47 service aces per set. Sheena Donohue rates seventh in the league with 3.16 kills per set.

The job of finding the Tigers' attackers rests on the shoulders of Bailey Robinson. Robinson has distributed an Ivy League-best 11.61 assists per set this season. Ensign leads Princeton at the net with 0.69 blocks per set, and libero Hillary Ford ranks fifth in the Ivy with a team-high 4.21 digs per set.

The Tigers, whose lone Ivy League blemish came at the hands of the Bulldogs, have won seven straight matches since that Oct. 17 setback in the Elm City. The defending Ivy League champions have won 25 of their last 26 league matches dating back to the 2006 season. Princeton has played just four home matches in 2008 and have dropped just one set in the confines of Dillon Gym all season.

The steepest uphill climb for the Ivy League crown is definitely that of Penn. Penn is 8-3 in the Ivy League (12-11 overall), meaning the best that the Quakers could hope for is a shared title. Penn needs a total of five matches to fall in its favor this weekend.

The Penn offense is led by Julia Swanson, the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Swanson has crushed 3.69 kills per set this season, the third-highest total in the Ancient Eight. Kathryn Turner has been the Quakers' most efficient hitter, amassing her 2.24 kills per set on a hitting percentage of .289. Megan Tryon has distributed 9.74 assists per set as Penn's primary setter. The most valuable player of the Quakers in 2008 has arguably been libero Madison Wojchiechowski, who ranks second in the Ivy League with 4.88 digs per set. It was Wojchiechowski's pancake dig of a Yale match-point that propelled the Quakers to victory in New Haven on Oct. 17.

The Quakers' victory over Yale on Oct. 17 kicked off a seven-match winning streak that propelled them into third place in the Ivy League. Penn is 6-2 at home this season, including a 4-1 Ivy League mark at the Palestra in Philadelphia.

The wildcard of the weekend is the Brown Bears (12-12, 4-8 Ivy). Brown plays both Penn and Princeton this weekend, and could drastically shake up the Ivy League title picture with a victory over either team. Brown fell to Princeton earlier in the season, but defeated Penn in what was the last loss the Quakers have suffered.

The Bulldogs will wrap-up the 2008 regular season in the Golden State next week. The team will challenge No. 17 nationally-ranked San Diego on Nov. 29 and Loyola Marymount on Nov. 29.

report filed by Drew M. Kingsley, Yale Sports Publicity