This weekend, the volleyball team (19-7, 9-5 Ivy League) faced off against Princeton (14-9, 11-3) and Yale (21-3, 14-0) in New Haven for a chance to become Ivy League champions. The Bears came in second after defeating the Tigers Friday night and losing to the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Bruno entered the tournament as the third seed after clinching a spot with their Nov. 10 win over Columbia.
On Thursday, the league announced Jessie Golden ’26 as the 2023 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year as well as First Team All-Ivy selections for Golden, Cierra Jenkins ’24 and Beau Vanderlaan ’25. Kate Sheire ’24 also earned a Second Team All-Ivy selection and was named to the Academic All-Ivy Team.
“I am just very grateful for being selected as DPOY, and also to be a part of a team that helps me get better every day,” Golden wrote in a message to The Herald via Brown Athletics.
Despite their inability to defeat the Tigers during the regular season, the Bears were not going to let second-seeded Princeton slip by for a third time this season.
On Friday night, Bruno played some of their best volleyball of the season. Jilienne Widener ’24 led the attack for the Bears, notching 15 kills — her season high — followed by Vanderlaan and Sheire with 14 and 13 kills, respectively.
The Bears also continued showing off their defensive prowess after leading the Ivy League in the regular season in digs per set. Led by Golden’s 21 digs, the team accumulated 68 overall against the Tigers, its third highest total of their season.
“It felt like our defense was flowing well together and I trusted both the blockers and back row players next to me, which made it easy for me to get digs,” Golden wrote.
Perhaps the winning factor for the Bears was their performance behind the service line. A constant for the Bears during the regular season — who averaged 1.82 aces per set, third in the Ivy League — Bruno managed seven aces on Friday, with three coming from Mariia Sidorova ’26 alone.
“We are one of the best serving teams in the Ivy League and we showed up in a big way from the service line on Friday night,” Head Coach Taylor Virtue wrote in a message to The Herald via Brown Athletics. “Our serving ultimately led us to a great defensive performance both blocking and digging.”
After the Tigers had stretched an early lead in the first set, going up 10-5, the Bears managed to tie it up 11-11 following a 6-1 run capped off by an ace from Kayla Griebl ’25.
From then onwards the Bears took control of the match, at first slowly, holding onto a slight 17-16 lead before exploding into a set victory and going on an 8-2 run to take set one 25-18.
The second set was a forgettable one for the Bears, who only hit .023 compared to the Tiger’s .342 hitting percentage, resulting in a 25-13 rout as they dropped the set.
Vanderlaan came alive in a huge way for the Bears in the third set, hitting five of her 14 kills. Her efforts helped the Bears turn the tables and hand the Tigers a 25-13 defeat.
The fourth set similarly saw the Bears taking charge early, going up 10-5. Still, the Tigers had a little fight left in them and pushed back to shorten the lead to 10-8. But the Bears, who had the championship game on their minds, extended their lead to 20-11.
From then on, all the Bears had to do was close, which they did, splitting points with Princeton to finish the game 25-16.
The Tigers were held to hitting percentages of .037 and .065 in the last two sets, a testament to Bruno’s hitting defense that night.
The victory took the Bears into a championship match against top-seeded Yale for the second year in a row. The Bulldogs led the Ivy League in hitting percentage per set, assists per set, kills per set and service aces per set.
Yale had only dropped six sets of 48 played in regular season play — two of those coming at the hands of Bruno in their heartbreaking 3-2 defeat on Sept. 22.
The Bears were unable to stop the offensive juggernaut that was the Bulldogs, who out-killed them 69 to 50 Saturday night.
Yale’s offensive play required another career night from Golden, whose 29 digs kept the Bears in the game at times.
“It felt like our defense was very strong throughout the championship game,” Golden wrote. “I just wanted to get the team as many opportunities as possible.”
“Every day in practice our passers have to face some of the best servers in the league and that has been a huge key to our success,” Virtue wrote. “Our reception unit has been getting better each week this season, passing has become a strength of ours. I was proud to see them show up against two competitive serving teams and give us a lot of chances to run our offense.”
Both teams held their own on offense, never dropping below a hitting percentage of .150, but Yale ultimately outhit the Bears .266 to .212. Widener and Vanderlaan led the offense with 11 and 10 kills, respectively, while Sidorova notched two more aces.
Jenkins and Vanderlaan’s contributions between the semi-final and championship games led to their selection as All-Tournament players.
The first set looked like it was going to the Bears after they took 10-5 and then 16-12 leads, but Yale closed the gap to make it a 20-17 contest in their favor. The Bears battled back to tie at 20 apiece but dropped the match 25-22 in the end.
The second set was even closer, with the Bears and Bulldogs locked at 21-21 before the Bulldogs pushed to set point. Bruno eventually dropped the set 25-23.
Bruno managed a consolation set win in a must-win situation, never conceding the lead to Yale during the third set and winning it 25-21.
Despite the win, the Bears failed to convert on the next must-win set and, after taking a late 19-17 lead, were knocked into second place after losing eight consecutive points.
Despite the loss, the Bears conclude the season with strong team and individual performances led by first-year head coach Virtue, who looks forward to a bright future with the team.
“This season will always be incredibly special to me, I could not have asked for a better team to welcome me to this role. I am so grateful for each and every one of them and all that we accomplished this year,” Virtue wrote. “The goal for the years to come remains the same: We want to bring the Ivy League championship back to Brown.”
Dennis Carey is a sports senior staff writer for The Brown Daily Herald. He previously contributed to the Arts and Culture section. In his spare time, he enjoys watching Atlanta sports and collecting vinyl records.