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Volleyball falls to Ivy powerhouse Yale in conference opener

Lucenti ’17 registers team-high 30 assists, Bears hang close against perennial contender

Despite dropping its Ivy opener to Yale in straight sets, the volleyball team looks ready to contend in conference play this season. Going up against the Bulldogs (8-2, 1-0 Ivy) was due to be a stiff challenge for the Bears (2-9, 0-1), but they battled back in each set to make for a competitive match.

“We’re always really excited to play Yale,” said outside hitter Shirin Tooloee ’18. “Since they’re one of our biggest rivals, it was good mental preparation for the start of league play.”

Yale is one of the toughest competitors in the Ivy League. The team has made the NCAA tournament in four of the last five years.

There’s no doubt that the crowd was a factor Friday night. In front of 293 supporters, Bruno fed off the high energy of its fans throughout the contest.

“We really supported one another out there and utilized our awesome fan base to fuel us,” said co-captain Payton Smith ’17. “I hope we continue to have that same support throughout the season.”

The opening set was a tight affair, with the Bulldogs clinging to a narrow lead at the start. But after drawing the score to 15-12, the Bears began to stumble as their counterparts raced out to a 21-13 lead behind a 6-1 run. Though the set looked out of reach, Bruno stormed back with a run of its own, scoring seven straight points to bring the margin down to one. The Bears caught a spark from  Tooloee, who recorded four kills in the streak. Tooloee demonstrated aggression and power at the net throughout the match, Smith said.

But it was not quite enough, as Yale ultimately triumphed, 25-21.

It initially looked as though Bruno had carried over some momentum from its near-comeback in the previous set by kicking off the second frame with two straight points. But Yale quickly turned things around, tallying nine straight points to build a commanding lead. The Bears did not roll over this time either, coming back from a 17-10 deficit to nearly level the score at 19-17. That was as close as Bruno would get, as the Bulldogs closed the set on a 6-0 surge to take a 2-0 lead in the match.

The final set followed a similar narrative. After falling down 15-10, the Bears hung around and brought the deficit to three at 22-19. But the comeback magic once again was not quite strong enough to propel the Bears to a set victory. Yale would go on to win the frame 25-19.

Bruno’s efforts were led by Tooloee, who wound up with a team-high 10 kills, and Sarah Lucenti ’17, who recorded a match-high 30 assists. It’s the third time this season that the senior setter has tallied at least 30 assists. Also playing important roles were Makena Ehlert ’20 and Sabrina Stillwell ’19, who posted nine and seven kills, respectively.

Libero Melissa Cairo ’18 spearheaded the team’s defensive play, registering 13 digs, while Elisa Merten ’19 added eight of her own as well. Merten played a significant role by diversifying the team’s offense: In addition to her defensive play, the setter provided backrow hitting, Tooloee said.

The Bears will now head on the road to continue Ivy League play, squaring off against a pair of New York foes in Cornell (5-5, 0-1) and Columbia (6-5, 1-0).

“We’re really hungry for a win,” Tooloee said. “We’ve played a lot of preseason matches and the close game against Yale has us edging for our first Ivy win.”

“I believe our team can bounce back and get a couple of wins this weekend,” Smith added.


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