VOLLEYBALL | Rudnick anchors nationally ranked defense

Libero Maddie Rudnick ’15, right, tallied 25 digs in Friday’s 3–1 win over Columbia. Rudnick is third in the Ivy League with 4.7 digs per set.
Libero Maddie Rudnick ’15, right, tallied 25 digs in Friday’s 3–1 win over Columbia. Rudnick is third in the Ivy League with 4.7 digs per set. Photo by Henry Ehrenberg.

While the volleyball team streaks through one of the greatest seasons in program history, one player’s deeds have quietly flown under the radar.

Although Maddie Rudnick’s ’15 contributions generally show up in just one column of the box score, the California-native has been one of the most important players for the Elis on the court this season.

“Maddie is an unbelievably great defensive player,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “She’s really steadied our defense out and is one of the best passers in the conference.”

Rudnick is a libero, meaning she wears a different colored jersey than her teammates and can only play in the back row. Liberos are not permitted to spike or set the ball and, as a result, are primarily on the court to dig spikes and pass to the setters. Although liberos often do not receive as much glory as their teammates, outside hitter Mollie Rogers ’15 said it is one of the most important positions in volleyball.

“It’s really important to have someone on the court that 99 percent of the time will have control of passing and defense,” Rogers said. “Without the first pass, you can’t do anything.”

Rudnick has appeared as the libero in all 39 matches the Bulldogs have played over her first two seasons at Yale. This year, the team is 10–0 in Ivy League play and has consistently been one of the top defensive teams in the nation. The Elis are currently second among all Division I squads with 19.74 digs per set.

Rudnick has anchored that effort with a team-high 4.7 digs per set. That mark is third in the conference behind Penn libero Dani Shepherd and Brown libero Kathryn Conner.

The fact that Rudnick had never played libero full-time when she arrived to Yale makes her accomplishments all the more impressive. The sophomore instead played outside hitter throughout much of her high school career.

“I knew I wouldn’t be able to hit in college because I’m not tall enough and I don’t hit hard enough,” Rudnick said.

Although it was her first full season at libero, Rudnick excelled in her freshman year. She finished seventh in the conference and first on the team with 4.63 digs per set. Rudnick said her success did not come easily, adding that she had to make some adjustments in getting used to the new position.

“I’m not the loudest person [on the court] but I have to run the back row,” Rudnick said. “Being in the position where I needed to be calling for the majority of the balls was a transition.”

Helping Rudnick to make that transition was setter Kendall Polan ’14. Polan and Rudnick, along with outside hitter Karlee Fuller ’16, all attended La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, Calif. Rudnick played two years each with Polan and Fuller at La Costa Canyon, which boasts a powerhouse volleyball program. In Rudnick’s sophomore year, which was Polan’s junior year, the team finished No. 1 in the nation and won the California state championship.

“She’s always been very consistent and someone you can trust to do her job,” Polan said. “She always comes up with the balls you expect her to get.”

La Costa Canyon’s success was in large part due to Rudnick’s sister, Lydia Rudnick, who is currently a senior outside hitter at Princeton and one of the best offensive players in the Ivy League. She currently leads the conference in kills per set with 4.26 and has been named First-Team All-Ivy each of the past two seasons. Maddie said that Ivy matchups are always contentious between the two.

“It’s definitely competitive,” Rudnick said. “She always texts me to tell me to be ready for our matches. I want her to play well because she’s my sister but at the same time there’s nothing I want more than to beat her.”

The Rudnick sisters will go head-to-head in their final collegiate matchup when the Bulldogs travel to Princeton for a crucial Ivy match this Saturday.

Yale will tackle Penn on Friday night in Philadelphia before taking on Princeton the following day.

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