VOLLEYBALL | Bulldogs take on California

The volleyball team concluded its season last year in California against USC in the NCCA Tournament.
The volleyball team concluded its season last year in California against USC in the NCCA Tournament. Photo by Blair Seideman.

It’s back to the west coast for the volleyball team this weekend.

The Elis will travel to San Diego to take on UC Santa Barbara (6–5), No. 16 San Diego (5–2) and Fresno St. (5–4) as part of the San Diego Tournament. The Bulldogs (3–2) finished their season in California last year, where they fell 3–0 to USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Because seven of the 12 members of the team are California natives, the Bulldogs drew excellent attendance at their NCAA Tournament match in December and expect a strong crowd this weekend.

“Being back in Southern California again is amazing,” outside hitter and San Diego native Mollie Rogers ’15 told the News. “We get to play some really talented teams and we will gain a lot of experience. We also get to do so in front of friends and family. It makes the experience so much more fun, almost like you are playing at home.”

The Bulldogs enter this weekend’s matches after an impressive showing over the first five games of the season. Yale has already taken on three foes from major conferences, including Texas A&M from the Big 12, Villanova from the Big East and Northwestern from the Big Ten. The Elis took a set off both Texas A&M and Northwestern and managed a 3–1 defeat of Villanova.

Captain and middle blocker Haley Wessels ’13 will be a key part of the Bulldogs’ strategy after being named Ivy League Player of the Week for her performance in the Yale Invitational last weekend. Wessels is the second Bulldog to win the award in the first two weeks of play after setter Kendall Polan ’14 took home the honor two weeks ago.

Yale will also look to Jesse Ebner ’16 to continue her strong play from last weekend. The middle blocker erupted for 28 kills in the tournament after recording just 11 in the season’s first three matches combined. Her breakout performance both landed her on the Yale Invitational All-Tournament team and earned her a mention on the Ivy League Honor Roll.

“I just really wanted to take advantage of the opportunity that [head coach Erin Appleman] gave me,” Ebner said. “I was grateful for the opportunity to start and get a lot of playing time. I just wanted to have high energy and be a selfless player.”

Ebner’s success on the court is part of a Yale attack that is deeper than last season. In 2011, six different players led the Bulldogs in kills on separate occasions. This season, four players — Polan, Karlee Fuller ’16, Rogers and Ebner —­ have already accomplished that feat through the team’s first five matches.

Last Friday’s match against Villanova was the team’s greatest display of depth so far this season. Five Yale players notched double-digit kills, a number that last year’s team did not reach. Appleman said that a major reason for the even distribution of scoring opportunities has to do with the addition of another setter, Kelly Johnson ’16, on the floor with Polan.

“The system is a little different,” she said. “We are playing a 6–2 instead of a 5–1, which gives Kendall more swings, and she’s a serious hitter. Our setters are connecting well with our middles, which is opening up more opportunities.”

The Elis’ stiffest competition this weekend, and likely of the season thus far, will be San Diego. The Toreros, who enter the contest ranked 16th nationally, went an impressive 28–5 last season and fell 3–1 in the second round of the NCAA tournament to eventual champion UCLA.

The most impressive aspect of the Toreros’ resume this season is a near-win over current No. 3 USC. San Diego pushed the Trojans all the way to a fifth set in that match and outhit the Trojans .222 to .162.

The action begins on Friday evening at 5 p.m. when the Elis take on UC Santa Barbara. Yale will proceed to play against San Diego and Fresno St on Saturday.

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