Q&A | Chit chat with the newly crowned volleyball champs

The women’s volleyball team has worked hard this season, rising to the top of the league as the newly crowned Ivy Champions. This past weekend, the Bulldogs traveled to Penn and Princeton, beating both to claim the Ivy League title. Now that conference play is over, captain and setter Ally Mendenhall ’09 and outside hitters Alexis Crusey ’10 and Cat Dailey ’10 had a moment to sit down and put their season in perspective. The road to success was paved with more than just long practices, team chemistry and tough competition. They recount the stories of crossword puzzles, Princeton, and a secret weapon named Jay.

QSo, it’s been about half a week since the victory. Has it set in yet?

A.M. I wake up every morning with a smile on my face with what we’ve done, and I think that’s across the board for our entire team.

C.D. It hasn’t hit me yet either. Right after the match it was such a cathartic moment. After the Penn game we were just so mentally and physically tired — so many emotions at the same time because we worked so hard. Maybe when we get the [Ivy League championship] rings, it will set in. It’ll be something to remind me every day.

A.C. I’d have to agree with Ally and Cat — it’s something that we’ve built up for so long, something that we’ve set our sights on. To know that we had worked so hard towards this goal and then went out and actually achieved it was amazing and fulfilling.

Q 20 years from now, people will be able to see that you won, but they might not know the story behind the success. What does the championship say about your team that people might not know?

A.C. The difference between this year and past years. We didn’t have a doubt in our mind that this was the year to go out and do it. There was no other option.

A.M. We believed that it would happen before it did. Looking back, you can see that it takes hard work, it takes good team chemistry, and it takes heart. But it also takes confidence in each other, a belief in each other.

C.D. It was something that we willed to happen. Every game was a battle. We had to work hard for every point. Let alone 25.

QOr 28? [The team went into extra points during their championship game against Princeton.]

All laugh.

C.D. Yeah, I thought it would go to 50. But we were confident. Even when we were down, or they had game point, I never thought that we were going to lose.

A.C. We didn’t give anyone else an option. There wasn’t a doubt because we didn’t see any other way.

QLet’s talk about that loss to Penn. Coming off tough victories over Harvard and Princeton, you guys we’re cruising. But then you lost to Penn — did that put any doubt in your minds?

A.M. That loss was what made us the team that we are. Of course, I don’t know if it would have taken that loss, but we were so upset that we didn’t refocus after Princeton [their first match against the Tigers was Oct. 17] and we just let it slip away. It’s funny that it took a loss, but we just let it fuel us to get better. We had a new sense of urgency.

QWhat is one thing that the Yale community doesn’t know about the women’s volleyball team?

All laugh.

A.M. I think this is a good time to give a shout-out to Jay, our trainer. In a lot of respects, he’s our secret weapon. He helps keep the mood light. And he’s really good at predicting how games will turn out.

C.D. People can tell that we’re having fun out on the court. We are great at knowing when to focus, and when to lighten up. Oh, and Ally likes to eat with her hands.

A.C. And we like to dance.

A.M. We stay on track, but we also stay quirky.

C.D. We love crosswords. Today’s was hard.

A.C. Yea it was. But I finished it!

QAlly, what are the differences between Cat and Lexi’s style of play? [Both are outside hitters.] And what do they bring to the team?

A.M. The combination of both of them has been a huge key to our success, in that they’re both great all-around players. Cat is coming in from Cal, so she’s played at a high level. And she’s aggressive. Lexi has been here for three years, and she knows what it’s like to play at Yale. But they’re both smart players.

QOutside hitters, how about your captain?

A.C. Meh. [Laughs] But seriously, one of the things that’s unique about Ally is that she wasn’t just selected to be captain. She takes the position very seriously, and she’s taken the role to an entirely new level. And she’s fostered the relationships among players and between us and the coaches. I think that I speak for everyone when I say that she is the hardest worker on the team, and we’re better for it.

C.D. Ally has been a phenomenal leader. That’s what being a captain is all about. We’re willing to follow her — she’s our rock.

QWhat position would I play?

A.M. How tall are you?

QSix-foot 3 inches.

A.M. We’d put you at opposite hitter. If you have good lateral movement, we might put you at middle blocker.

A.C. I don’t know. He has good hands. Look at him typing. He might be able to set.

QIvy League play is over, but a lot of people might not know that you guys have just begun — you guys are going to the NCAA tournament. Are you ready?

A.C. I feel like people might say that we’re there just because we won our conference. [The Ivy League winner gets an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament.] But I really think that we’re at that level. We can go into that tournament and really make a statement.

A.M. It’s exciting to get out of the Ivy League and play some teams that you don’t know. There’s no level of expectation. We just want to go out, have fun and be playing the best volleyball we can at the end of the season.

QWhat have your coaches meant to your success?

A.C. It is such a tough job, and I think that it goes unnoticed, sometimes even by the players. They work 24/7 for us. I mean, they’re scouting and watching [game] films on Sunday nights. They prepare us, and we execute. We can’t go into the game blindly.

C.D. Some coaches are good at practice and others are good at in-game adjustments. But I feel like we’ve got the best of both worlds.

A.M. They also complement each other. [Head coach] Erin [Appleman] is competitive, but [assistant coaches] Kevin [Laseau] and Jim [Borbas] keep the mood light. And we just feed off of all of that.

QWhat else has contributed to the success of your team?

C.D. Players coming off the bench — they make a huge difference. It’s things like that that might not make the front page, but are crucial to our success. That seventh, eighth, ninth player off the bench can really change the match.

A.C. Yeah, volleyball is a game of momentum, and one serve or block from those players can really get our team fired up.

A.M. It also makes practice really competitive. When we play each other six-on-six, I feel like we’ve got the best two teams in the conference.

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