The volleyball team began the year with a huge problem. Yale’s all-time leader in digs, libero Anja Perlebach ’07, had graduated and left her crucial defensive position up in the air. Someone had to come through for the team in order to fill the hole in the lineup, and rookie libero Kelly Ozurovich ’11 eagerly volunteered for the daunting task.
Prior to coming to Yale, Ozurovich had been through her fair share of competitive matches, winning the silver medal in two Junior Olympics with her club team, Mizuno Long Beach. But now she had to compete at the NCAA Division I level and attempt to fit into a space left by one of the best defensive players in the Bulldogs’ history.
“She came into the season playing awesome, and she really stepped up to the plate,” outside hitter Courtney Hall ’09 said.
Entering the lineup in such an influential position right away put pressure on the rookie, but Ozurovich put forth a solid effort from the start with the support of her teammates.
“It was extremely intimidating to play libero, especially against Penn State and Stanford, but the team has really made me feel comfortable,” she said. “At volleyball, we’re not freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors — we’re a team. When I realized that, it made me so much more relaxed when I play.”
Twelve games into the season, Ozurovich seems to have proven herself worthy of the starting job. So far, she leads the team with 145 digs and ranks eighth in the Ivy League with an average of 4.26 digs per game. She has already surpassed the total number of digs Perlebach achieved in her entire freshman season (143). Ozurovich currently leads the team with 18 service aces and is third in the Ancient Eight with an average of .53 aces per game.
“She consistently plays hard and really demands a lot out of herself,” middle blocker Kristen Wilk ’09 said.
A high work ethic has paid off for the Playa del Rey native in her debut season at Yale. Ozurovich has been named Ivy League Rookie of the Week twice in three weeks after strong performances at the Long Island Tournament and against Ivy rivals. Her early successes, along with those of the team, have attracted the attention of fellow students.
“My favorite thing about Yale volleyball has definitely been the support from our fans,” she said. “Coming from a very small girls’ high school, I never had many fans at my games, so it has been fun and encouraging to play in a gym full of people.”
The volleyball team has earned the allegiance of its audience with an 8-4 overall record, a promising 2-1 showing in the Ancient Eight and solid performances against nationally ranked opponents like No. 2 Stanford and No. 3 Penn State.
Another motivational factor for the young libero has been the strong bond formed with her teammates. These spandex-sporting Bulldogs share much more with each other than just a locker room, and their camaraderie is an essential component of their success.
“We do pretty much everything together, which helps our chemistry on the court,” Ozurovich said. “The team is hilarious, and we never stop laughing when we’re together. I’ve known these girls for a little over a month, but I feel so comfortable with them already.”
She said vibrant team chemistry has helped the four freshmen on the team to adjust well to collegiate play and campus life. The opportunity to join such a dynamic program has not gone unappreciated by the rookie libero.
“For the first time in a few years, I truly love what I’m dedicating so much of my time and effort into,” she said. “Being an athlete in college is difficult, especially at a school with difficult academic requirements, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”
Judging by the impact Ozurovich has had upon the Bulldogs’ season so far, it seems safe to say that they would not give her up too easily either.