There are high expectations for a team drenched in Ivy glory.
Last season, the Yale women’s volleyball squad became the first Ivy League team to win an NCAA Tournament match and were certainly deserving of its conference co-title, going undefeated in its last seven matches. Although this team’s accolades deserve respect and attention from the rest of the league, head coach Erin Appleman refuses to let the Bulldogs’ top-10 regional ranking affect her vision of the upcoming season.
“We don’t look at [the ranking] as a pressure thing … we haven’t played a single opponent yet,” Appleman said. “So I don’t think we mean that much.”
The league champion Bulldogs welcome six extremely-gifted freshmen. Jacqueline Coe ’09, a Los Angeles native, made her all-league team in 2002 and followed it up with an MVP campaign in 2003. Courtney Hall ’09, another Californian, helped her team to two top-five finishes at the Junior Olympics. Allison Kaptur ’09 was a three-sport athlete in high school, earning letters in basketball, volleyball and tennis. Ally Mendenhall ’09, one of the few Yalies from Nebraska, received all-state, all-conference and academic honors in each of her four years for volleyball. Kristin Smith ’09, captained her team to three state championships as well as numerous regional accolades. Last, but not least, Kristen Wilk ’09 earned both conference and MVP honors while in high school.
Kaptur said her class has a big responsibility to help continue the success of last year’s team.
“There definitely is a lot of pressure, with people expecting a lot more of us,” she said.
While Kaptur’s words may be true of the incoming Elis, last season’s team was shaped by performing at its best against pressure-packed competition; the Bulldogs trailed 2-1 at Penn last year before taking the fourth game 37-35 and beginning a 10-match win streak. Furthermore, they eclipsed a 10-2 mark at the John J. Lee Amphitheater, defeating stingy Harvard, co-league champion Cornell, and Columbia. It seems as if this team’s trademark entails playing well in the face of adversity.
A game like volleyball depends much more on communication and team chemistry than football or basketball. The team has to react to situations as a unit; this is precisely why Appleman believes the success of the Bulldogs depends on the integral function of each individual.
“If everyone does what they need to do, we’ll be okay,” she said. “If they don’t, we’ll struggle.”
Given last season’s brilliance, one could hardly think of the Bulldogs struggling this season. However, their schedule is fairly rigorous. They open against Georgetown Friday and then face the likes of Cornell, Harvard, Dartmouth, Penn and Princeton in October — all stiff Ivy competition.
“We just need to be really intense from the beginning,” team captain Christy Paluf ’06 said. “The more success we have early on, the more successful we will be later on.”
It is this levelheaded approach that led the Bulldogs to success last year. And apparently, the team is not feeling the pressure.