VOLLEYBALL | Experience an advantage for Bulldogs

In search of their fourth straight Ivy title, the Bulldogs will begin their season by hosting Missouri at 7 p.m. tonight.
In search of their fourth straight Ivy title, the Bulldogs will begin their season by hosting Missouri at 7 p.m. tonight. Photo by Philipp Arndt.

After three straight Ivy titles and two straight NCAA tournament appearances, the women’s volleyball team is back on campus with two weeks of practice under its belt and a challenging preseason beginning this weekend.

The Bulldogs will host Missouri tonight at 7 p.m. and take on Colgate and Seton Hall at home this weekend. Finishing the season undefeated in the Ivies is a difficult feat to replicate, but the Elis hope that a difficult preseason will start them down the path to success.

“It will be a really challenging preseason,” outside hitter Gaby Bird-Vogel ’15 said, “but it will prepare us well for Ivies.”

The Elis will also face Stanford, ranked No. 3 in the preseason polls, and Penn State, ranked No. 2 in preseason polls, before they begin Ivy competition on Sep.28.

Yale’s strong roster may also help drive Yale to success this season.

While only one senior left the Yale roster at the conclusion of last season — Haley Wessels ’13 — four new freshmen have joined the Bulldog volleyball squad. Middle blocker Claire Feeley ’17, libero Tori Shepherd ’17, outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17 and middle blocker Lucy Tashman ’17, representing the states of California, Hawaii and Illinois, will all put on the blue and white for the first time tonight.

“They are a very talented group and have a lot of depth in a lot of different positions,” head coach Erin Appleman said.

Yale’s talented freshman class, ranked at www.prepvolleyball.com as one of the best incoming classes of volleyball players, will join an outstanding returning core. The past three Ivy-League rookie-of-the-year honors have been given to current Bulldogs team captain Kendall Polan ’14, Mollie Rogers ’15 and Kelly Johnson ’16. Polan is the two-time defending conference player of the year, Rogers was first team All-Ivy in 2012 and Maddie Rudnick ’15 was second team All-Ivy.

Though the Elis have a deep talent pool from which to draw, they do not rely on talent alone to help them reach their goals for the season.

“My goal as a coach is to get better every day, both in practice and in matches,” Appleman said. “Every time we’re together we want to get better and improve. I want to be the most improved Ivy team of the year.”

Polan and Appleman said cohesiveness was key to the teams’ success last season and is a top priority for the Bulldogs in 2013.

“Last year, we were very cohesive as a unit and a big goal this season is having that same cohesive feeling,” Bird-Vogel said. “It makes a world of difference. Working hard and competing with these girls every day is what will get us to the next level.”

According to Polan, competition is essential to improve individually and as a team, but when the team is filled with driven, competitive and talented athletes, it is also important to strike a balance. She also said it is essential not to let the distant goals of the team, such as another Ivy League title, affect immediate performance.

“My goal as captain is to keep a calm atmosphere and not let teammates get too competitive with each other and to keep people enjoying volleyball,“ Polan said. “I think to win an Ivy League championship is always a goal. I also think it’s really important to win one game at a time and not look to far ahead. Every game is as important as the next.”

After two weeks of practice, both the athletes and the coaches are ready for their first test of the season and the tone it will set for the rest of the year.

“I’m excited for this opening weekend here. I hope we can look at a couple of different lineups and I hope we have some players that emerge as starters,” Appleman said. “I look forward to developing what Yale volleyball 2013 will be this year.”

The 2013 volleyball season begins at 7 p.m. tonight in Payne Whitney Gym.

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