After playing on an Ivy League championship team each of the past two seasons, Haley Wessels ’13 captained the women’s volleyball team to an undefeated conference campaign and a third straight Ivy title in 2012. The Elis finished their season with an NCAA tournament appearance, dropping their first-round matchup against Bowling Green in a five-set heartbreaker on Friday at Penn State. The News sat down with Wessels to discuss the team’s season, its NCAA tournament appearance and her senior season.
Q: Before Friday’s game, the team had not lost since Sept. 15 against Fresno State in San Diego. When did you know that the team was going to be that good?
A: Every year we always get really good … recruits and I feel like our coach is really good at recruiting, so that always helps knowing that our freshmen were very strong. We did our preseason in California, and I don’t think we won a game, so we went into the season with pretty low expectations, but I could definitely sense the team chemistry pretty early on. I haven’t been on a team that gets along as well as this one did this year, so that was really cool. I think that’s what made us so successful.
Q: You said that this team got along better than any other team you’d ever been on. What else is different about this team in comparison to years past?
A: What was special was that the freshmen came in and played a lot more maturely than I expected. … We have a very young team, five freshmen is a pretty young team, and I don’t think we ever really let that show, which I think was really cool and I think that comes with the upperclassmen making sure the freshmen feel comfortable, and that starts with chemistry in my opinion.
Q: Tell me a little bit about the Ivy League run. Were there any matches that stood out, and what was particularly memorable about the season?
A: We never went to five games [in a match], which was so weird. I think the game that stands out for me the most, when I really knew that this team was really special, was our game at Harvard. We were down [12–4], and we came back and beat them [25–18]. We just looked at each other and were like, “We’re not going to lose this game,” and we got the next 10 points in a row and just went from there, so I thought that was a really special game for us.
Q: What’s the NCAA tournament experience like, and how is it different from other games throughout the course of the season?
A: Last year was very different from this year just because last year we played at USC, and that was in the first round. They were ranked seventh in the tournament, and so I think we were more affected by the awe factor of playing in their huge amphitheater, and it was really cool. Their locker rooms were awesome, [and] I was really blown away by this whole experience. … But then this year it was more like, OK, we can win this game, we can take a game in the NCAA tournament, and we’ve already had that experience from last year. We know how it works pressure-wise, and I think those were the most fans we’ve ever played in front of at Penn State, and I don’t even think it affected us at all. I think having the experience from last year really helped us. Friday’s game was a lot more exciting than last year for sure. I hope that even next year, they have this experience, and they can maybe win a game in the first round.
Q: The game against Bowling Green was a pretty wild game. After the first set, which you won by nine points, were you guys feeling confident?
A: Oh yeah, I remember thinking, “This is my first NCAA game I’ve ever won,” although we didn’t win the match. What was weird about the [match] was that the momentum shifted so extremely. … We definitely maybe took our foot off the gas a little bit the second game and … we were maybe in disbelief that we could actually make this happen and got a little timid. … I’m hoping that they learn from that and realize, for them next year, that they can do this and this is something very obtainable for the Yale program.
Q: What was the reaction like in the locker room after the match?
A: I was in tears. It’s over for me, so it’s very weird. … I told everyone after the second game, I said, “If we’re going to go out, we’re going to go out with a fight, we’re not going to lose this next game just giving it to them.” I think the fact that we definitely put up a fight throughout, even to the end of the fifth game, made us [feel] better about it, but it obviously sucks to lose, it still kind of stings. … I think it’s disappointing because we didn’t give it our best performance on such an important night and that we’ve been looking forward to all season.
Q: It’s the end of your Yale volleyball career. What did this team mean to you, and what are you going to remember about your four years here?
A: I think every year I’ve gotten close with every girl on the team, and I feel like, even the freshmen, I love them all. It’s really cool that although you come in as a recruited athlete, [and] your coach ends up picking your friends … my coach has given us such a great group of people, and I’m going to be friends with these girls for life. … You remember volleyball and you remember how we did, but a lot of other stuff lasts a lot longer, especially for me.