After a spotless 14–0 Ivy season, a third straight conference title and an NCAA tournament berth, most teams would be satisfied.
But this kind of success is nothing new for the Yale volleyball program. The Bulldogs are set to play in their fourth NCAA tournament in the past nine seasons and will attempt to win a first-round match for the third time since 2004.
“Coming out of the season, winning the Ivy League was our first and foremost goal,” outside hitter Erica Reetz ’14 said. “But now that we’ve made it out of the Ivy season, we’re really excited about the potential we have in the NCAA tournament.”
It was just last year that the majority of the Yale squad got its first taste of the tournament. After capturing the Ivy title with a 12–2 conference record, the Bulldogs received the Ancient Eight’s automatic NCAA tournament bid and were matched up against USC in the tournament’s first round. The Trojans swept the Elis 3–0 and made it all the way to the semifinals before losing 3–2 to eventual runner-up Illinois.
“Last year was great because we got to go in and play a big team,” Reetz said. “To play USC, at their home and in the first round, was a cool experience for the program and for us in general. We got to show the rest of [Division I] volleyball what the Ivy League has to offer.”
This year’s squad will not find out who its first-round opponent will be until Nov. 25, when the entire 64-team field will be announced during a selection show on ESPNU. In the meantime, the Elis will head their separate ways for Thanksgiving break before they resume practicing on the day of the selection show. Setter Kendall Polan ’14 said that maintaining the team’s winning mindset will be the key for the Bulldogs in the weeks leading up to the match.
“It’s going to be really mental for us,” Polan said. “Whoever we play, we’re probably going to go in as the underdog so we just have to go in and be confident and keep playing how we have been over the last few weeks.”
The Bulldogs’ rise to national prominence began in 2004, when the team played in its first-ever NCAA tournament. Yale went 10–4 in Ivy League play that season and shared the Ivy title with Cornell, Harvard and Princeton, giving the Elis just the second conference championship in program history.
After defeating its fellow champions in a four-way playoff to determine who would receive the Ivy League’s automatic NCAA bid, Yale took on Albany in its opening tournament contest. The Bulldogs knocked off the Great Danes 3–1, the first time an Ivy League team had ever won an NCAA tournament match. The went on to lose 3–0 in the second round to the eventual runner-up Minnesota Gophers.
The Bulldogs did not reach postseason play again until 2008, when they took the Ivy crown with a 13–1 conference record.
In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Yale took down Ohio University in a five-set thriller that featured 20 kills from outside hitter Cat Dailey ’10. The Bulldogs went on to fall in the second round to Penn State, who eventually captured the national championship with a 3–0 win over Stanford in the title match. Last year’s team captain Taylor Cramm ’11, who was a freshman during the 2008 season, expressed confidence in the Elis’ chances in the national tournament.
“[In 2008] we all really enjoyed playing together … and I think that took us to the next round,” Cramm said in a message to the News. “This year’s team is incredible and I am so proud of everything they have done. I have no doubt that they have what it takes to be a formidable presence in the NCAA tournament.”
Postseason expectations are certainly sky-high for this year’s team after the Bulldogs compiled just the second 14–0 regular season record in league history and cleaned up the conference’s postseason awards. Polan won her second consecutive Player of the Year award while setter Kelly Johnson ’16 was named Rookie of the Year, the third consecutive season the award has gone to an Eli. Those two, along with outside hitter Mollie Rogers ’15, were named to the All-Ivy First Team, while libero Maddie Rudnick ’15 and middle blocker Haley Wessels ’13 earned Second-Team nods.
The Bulldogs currently rank second in the nation in kills per set and third in assists per set with 14.9 and 13.9, respectively.