“Core.” This is the first word that comes to mind for libero Tori Shepherd ’17 when describing her volleyball teammate, captain Kendall Polan ’14.
“She puts in more time than is required … everybody trusts her,” Shepherd said. “She does a really good job of connecting the team in the middle of every play.”
As the starting setter for the past four years, Polan has been at the core of the Bulldogs’ success in each of the past three seasons, all of which culminated in Ivy League titles.
Polan’s individual talent has been recognized across the conference since her first year at Yale. As a freshman, she was named the Ivy League Rookie of the year, and followed that performance with Ivy League Player of the Year awards her sophomore and junior seasons.
Last year, Polan played in all 84 sets of the regular season and averaged a team-leading 7.43 assists per set. In addition to her dominant performance as a setter, Polan excelled across the court last year with 313 digs and 186 kills, placing her third on the team in both categories.
Despite her shining record, Polan avoids talking about her personal accolades. She glows, however, when discussing her team.
“I’ve always had really good passers and really good hitters,” she said, “so they make me look good. Honestly, anyone on our team could have gotten [Ivy League Player of the Year]. I don’t necessarily think I deserved it both years. We have so many, so many strong players, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if anyone on our team had gotten it.”
In spite of her many honors, Polan believes she still has a lot of room for improvement
Her teammates are quick to praise her humble nature.
“Kendall’s just really enthusiastic and funny and nice,” middle blocker Claire Feeley ’17 said. “There are a lot of captains you can encounter in volleyball who … are overly authoritative and bossy, but Kendall acts like a fellow teammate who happens to be a little more knowledgeable.”
Shepherd added that she is impressed by Polan’s quiet confidence and the way that she fosters “family-style relationships” among her teammates.
Having led Yale to three titles thus far, Polan’s primary goal is to seize one more before graduating.
“We’re capable of winning; we just have to set our minds to it,” she said.
Last season, the Elis defeated Dartmouth in the final match of the Ivy League season to complete a perfect 14–0 league campaign, only the second team to do so since the Ancient Eight switched to a 14-game schedule in 2001.
Polan said that achievement was her most prized accomplishment on the volleyball court.
“[Going undefeated] wasn’t easy, and we all put a lot of hard work in,” she said. “It felt really good to come out on top like that.”
As captain this year, Polan has already rallied the team in moments of crisis.
After losing the first set 25–23 against more highly ranked Missouri on Sept. 6, she gathered the team together during a time out.
“Essentially we had to get angry to do well,” Feeley said. “A lot of volleyball is fueled through emotion, so she gave a speech that really encouraged us to keep fighting,”
Although the Bulldogs ultimately fell to the Tigers, 3–1, they dominated the next set en route to a 25-15 win.
Shepherd remembered another moment, after a disappointing loss to No. 8 Stanford at the Service Academy Challenge last weekend.
“Obviously, we were bummed, but Kendall said that she was so proud to be a part of our team because when we give our best and we play well, it’s fun to be a part of, despite the ultimate outcome,” Shepherd said.
Polan’s primary goal is to move through the season game by game, and to overcome a height disadvantage that has already frustrated the team against taller Missouri and Stanford, the only two teams to best the Bulldogs thus far.
To make up for this disadvantage, “we fight,” she said. “We don’t give up. No matter what team we’re playing, we’ll put our hearts and heads into it, and we’ll battle until the game is over.”
Polan hopes not to retire after graduation, but continue her volleyball career at a professional level overseas.
“Nothing is set in stone, but I’m interested,” she said. “It would just be an opportunity to travel, and if I could get paid to play volleyball, that would be an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.”
Alternatively, “Beach volleyball’s really big in the NCAA right now, too, so it would be cool to go play for a year and go to grad school somewhere.”
Polan and the Bulldogs return to the court on Friday against Eastern Kentucky at the Penn State Tournament.