VOLLEYBALL | Early exit for Bulldogs

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Photo by Sarah Eckinger.

It’s not always sunny in California. The volleyball team’s season ended in disappointing fashion last Friday when they fell to USC 3–0 in Los Angeles. While the Trojans are ranked No. 8 in RPI, they are considered the top team in the country by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

Despite the outcome, head coach Erin Appleman said the team has a lot to be proud of this season.

“It was a fantastic season overall,” Appleman said. “When you look back at some of the earlier matches, I don’t know if we were ready for those. We improved throughout the year, which is something that’s always a goal of mine. I was really proud how this team got along — there wasn’t a lot of drama on the court or off the court, and it was a really good-chemistry group of kids.”

The Trojans (27–4) jumped out to an early 9–4 lead in the first set after consecutive kills by Lauren Williams. They had no plans on relinquishing that lead and led by at least three en route to an opening 25–13 victory. After a kill from middle blocker Haley Wessels ’13, the Bulldogs were able to pull within 10–7. But they could not keep up as USC went on a 12–2 run that included five untimely Yale errors.

The second set did not start out any better for the Bulldogs. After tying the score at two, the Bulldogs gave way and fell into an 11–3 hole. There would be little rallying for the Elis the rest of the way as the Trojans maintained at least a seven-point lead the remainder of the set en route to another 25–13 win. Captain Taylor Cramm ’12 said the Bulldogs regrouped during the break and vowed to play their hardest in the third set.

“We went into our 10-minute break and at that point we had nothing to lose,” Cramm said. “I think that we all kind of knew that this was the time to play our hearts out and play together as a team and really have fun out there.”

In the third set, Yale finally came alive and gave USC a challenge. The Bulldogs jumped out to an early 6–1 lead behind three kills from outside hitter Bridget Hearst ’12. But USC stormed back and eventually tied the set at 11. After the Elis took a 12–11 lead, they could not pull away. The Trojans scored 10 of the next 14 points to take a 22–15 lead and put the Bulldogs on the edge of elimination. Yale managed to score three more points, but it was not enough as the Trojans went on to take the set 25–18 and the match 3–0. Appleman said that she felt the final score was not indicative of the level of play the Bulldogs brought to the court.

“The scores don’t reflect it, but there were moments where I thought we were playing with them,” Appleman said. “We had some incredible play from every player that was out there.”

For the Trojans, Alexis Olgard contributed a match-high 11 kills. She committed no errors and recorded a .647 hitting percentage in a performance that distracted from the virtual disappearance of potential player-of-the-year candidate Alex Jupiter. After notching 4.32 kills per set during the regular season, Jupiter had only four kills in 25 attempted attacks, good for a measly .040 hitting percentage.

“I think she just had an off match,” Appleman said. “They were trying to run their offense through the middle and I don’t think she got as many swings as she normally does.”

In her last career match, Hearst led the Elis with seven kills and added in two block assists defensively. Hearst’s pace-setting day was unexpected, as her playing time this year was sporadic due to injuries. Prior to Friday’s match, she had only played in nine of the team’s first 24 contests, after having been an All-Ivy first team pick last season.

“Being able to play in my final college game against the number-one team in the nation and being able to actually contribute in some way was really rewarding, because I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to do that again,” Hearst said.

Although the Bulldogs were far from home, they were well supported. Appleman said that numerous Yale alumni approached her after the match and that there were 200 to 300 fans wearing blue and white in attendance.

Despite the disappointing end to the year, the Bulldogs still achieved one of the greatest seasons in Yale volleyball history. They won their fifth-ever Ivy League championship, their fourth since 2004. For the first time since 1993, Yale had both the Ivy League Player of the Year and the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Kendall Polan ’14 and Mollie Rogers ’15. Polan was also recently named to the AVCA All-Northeast team. She was the only Ivy League player and possibly the only Yale player ever to make the team.

Looking ahead to next season, the future looks bright for the Bulldogs. Cramm and Katie Cordell ’12 are the only graduating seniors who regularly contributed this season, and the team’s core is almost entirely composed of freshmen and sophomores. Appleman said that the group she has is capable but that it is hard to predict future success based on talent alone.

“We’re definitely very talented, but you need a group that’s willing to work together,” Appleman said. “This year we had that, and you hope that continues throughout the next few years.”

The Trojans are currently in the third round of the NCAA tournament and are slated to play Hawaii on Friday.

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