VOLLEYBALL | Bulldogs shine at Yale Classic

Setter Kendall Polan ’14 tallied 32 kills, 68 assists and 33 digs this weekend en route to placement on the Yale Classic All-Tournament team.
Setter Kendall Polan ’14 tallied 32 kills, 68 assists and 33 digs this weekend en route to placement on the Yale Classic All-Tournament team. Photo by Sarah Eckinger.

Behind All-Tournament Team performances from Kendall Polan ’14 and Kelly Johnson ’16, the volleyball team got its season off to an excellent start this weekend in the Yale Classic and finished with the second-best record in a field of four teams. The Bulldogs (2–1) beat Stony Brook and American in straight sets and fell at the hands of Texas A&M (5–1), a team that received 17 votes in the most recent national ranking by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Libero Maddie Rudnick ’15 said the Classic was a good launching point for the season.

“Overall I thought the weekend was really good for us,” she said. “The first game is always going to be a struggle. We had some low points but we had some good stuff to work on so I’m really excited for the season.”

The Elis jumped right in against the tournament’s toughest opponent, Texas A&M, in their first match of the season Friday night. The Bulldogs looked nervous during the first set against the Aggies, who finished 18th in the nation in RPI last year, and Yale fell 25–20.

But the Elis came out to compete in a wild second set that went to a 35–33 Texas A&M victory. Polan led the Yale effort with six kills and five assists, part of a triple-double of 17 kills, 18 assists and 15 digs. The reigning Ivy League Player of the Year is playing a different role than last year, when she was the team’s only setter. With the addition of Johnson, who also plays setter, Polan will be able to attack more on the offensive side of the ball this season.

“Obviously Kendall hits the ball pretty well, so it’s a nice advantage if we can have it,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “I think she enjoys that kind of role, being a hitter. It worked well tonight, and I thought she did a good job.”

The Bulldogs managed to capture the third set 25–22 but dropped the fourth to give Texas A&M the 3–1 victory.

All five freshmen saw court time during the season opener. Three of them recorded at least one kill, and Christine Wu ’16 recorded a service ace. Leading the group, Johnson came one kill away from the team’s second triple-double of the night with nine kills, 21 assists and 16 digs.

“I was really nervous before the match, but once I got on the court my teammates really helped me out,” Johnson said. “The nerves went away when I started playing.”

The Bulldogs made up for Friday night’s loss by winning six straight sets on Saturday.

The first sweep came over Stony Brook (1–5). Despite the 3–0 final score, it was not an easy match for the Bulldogs. The Seawolves pushed the score past 25 points in both the first and third sets, though Yale finally took the first 26–24 and the third 28–26.

Johnson and fellow freshman Karlee Fuller ’16 led the Elis offensively, with 10 and 11 kills respectively. The Elis showed confidence in the Class of 2016 all match and finished the afternoon with three members of the group on the court.

“The 2016 class is really strong, and they’re definitely going to contribute a lot,” Rudnick said. “Just having confidence in yourself as a freshman is huge. They do a great job playing not only for themselves but also for the team.”

Yale ended its weekend with a sweep of American, a team that won the Patriot League last season and competed in the NCAA tournament. This season, the Patriot League’s head coaches voted American as a preseason favorite to win the conference’s title.

But unlike Stony Brook, American (2–3) did not present a serious challenge in any of the three sets. The Eagles were plagued by service errors throughout the match and committed nine to Yale’s six.

Last year’s freshman sensation Mollie Rogers ’15 broke out in a big way against American after failing to find a consistent rhythm in the team’s first two matches of the season. She recorded 12 kills on a .417 shot percentage to go along with 17 digs.

The Elis will be hosting another tournament this weekend, the Yale Invitational, where they will take on Villanova and Northwestern. The action begins Friday night at 7 p.m. in the John J. Lee Ampitheater.

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